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Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day 2006: A Grateful Nation Remembers

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, 1918
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed three years after the close of the American War Between the States, by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868, in his General Order No. 11. The holiday was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

It is now celebrated in every State on the last Monday in May as madated by Congress through the National Holiday Act of 1971 which ensures a three day weekend for Federal holidays; (several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3,in Louisiana and Tennessee, which is also the birthday of Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy .)

About the poems:
    John McCrae, a Canadian doctor wrote the first poem displayed following the death of one of his closest friends killed in WWI fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were blooming between the crosses marking the many graves.
    Moina Michael, a University of Georgia teacher, was inspired to write her poem when she read Dr. McCrae's poem 2 days before the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

    Michael came up with the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She is also considered the innovator of the sale of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy to commemorate the war dead.

    In 1922, just prior to Memorial Day of that year the Veterans of Foreign War, (VFW), became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

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