Each and every Memorial Day, American Legion Post 187 Winfield honors the sacrifice of all who have died in service to America with multiple ceremonies.
The usual program includes a review of the history of and origin of Memorial Day. On Monday, May 30, Post Historian Delbert Brannon presented the history of a different kind to attendees at Valley View Memorial Park in Hurricane. It was the history of a poem written in memory of those whose lives were snuffed out, not in the Civil War (the war that prompted Americans to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers), but in World War I.
Brannon told the story of “In Flanders Field” which was written 23 months prior to America’s entry in the Great War which was to end all wars.
The author, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, was Canadian physician who headed a military hospital in close proximity to the front lines in the spring of 1915. Following the Second Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium, McCrae presided over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was killed on May 2, 1915. Following the funeral, McCrae looked over the fresh graves of the fallen. He noted the poppies which had burst into bloom and the rows of crosses. It was a sight which he would not have seen one week earlier (poppy blossoms have short lives).
It was reported that McCrae wrote the poem on the spot and then crumpled and discarded it. It was retrieved by a fellow soldier. Months later McCrea submitted the poem for publication. The poem was publish and republished worldwide and became synonymous with the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in the First World War. The poem now memorializes the sacrifice of all who have perished for freedom’s cause.
McCrae’s poem follows:
In Flanders Fields
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.