Red poppies, white crosses
Published: May 30, 2011
I saw wild poppies growing by the roadside yesterday. The bright red blooms called to mind John McCrae’s WWI poem that begins:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row …”
At the close of “the war to end all wars,” an American woman, Moina Michael, inspired by McCrae’s poem, championed the poppy as a symbol of those who died in battle. The Veterans of Foreign Wars took up her cause in the 1920’s. To this day VFW members offer paper poppies, handmade by disabled veterans, for donations on the last Monday in May. Maybe you saw them at the commissary or exchange this weekend.
Did you get one to wear or to remember?
What will you and your family remember on this Memorial Day? Perhaps while you are cooking burgers or taking advantage of a long weekend for a family getaway, you'll also think of those who have devoted themselves or given their lives for military service.
I've spent some time thinking about heroes I’ve known or heard about – some whose stories were left unfinished.
One day last summer our family walked on the sand at Omaha Beach and later wandered among rows of headstones at the Normandy American Cemetery. Each of those white crosses and Stars of David represents a loved one lost too soon. Each one had a story to tell, a life to offer.
“… Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields.”
Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht was a casualty of a more recent war.
Born on the 4th of July, Jacob was the 1000th American troop to give his life in Afghanistan. He died just before Memorial Day last year, a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday. Jacob was from the same hometown as my Aunt June. She wrote to tell me about his funeral.
“I think most of Kerrville (Texas) either attended or lined the streets to show their respects … Four of his Marine brothers spoke, and I have never heard such humbling words. Then two of his own brothers gave eulogies that just made my heart ache even more so for his family.”
Later I learned more about Jacob in a conversation with his mother.
“He always told me he wanted to be – and was – a stellar Marine,” said Shirly Leicht.
“He was my strong little child, so that was a thrill for me. He had taken all of that strong will and turned it toward a very focused goal,” she said. “He was a tough Marine on the outside but just with a tender heart.”
My father is another veteran I remember every day, but especially this month which includes Memorial Day, as well as his birthday. This year would have been his 70th. He spent a career in the Air Force and served two tours in Southeast Asia.
At his funeral last May, I saw his folded flag, heard the rifle salute and the bugle playing “Taps.” I wrote about it in my column:
“Day is done for one veteran. One among millions who have served, lived and died. Each is loved, mourned and missed – during the funeral and for long afterward.
“The ceremony is repeated often and sometimes too early for soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines. Some die in service and some live to retire, but they all surrender their lives for love of country and belief in the flag that will eventually be extended over their caskets and offered to their next of kin.”
When I saw the poppies by the roadside, I remembered my father. I thought of Jacob Leicht. I remembered the crosses at Normandy – so many stories that were left unfinished, but still need to be remembered.
“... 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”