Quid Rides? De te Fabula Narratur

What are you laughing at? The joke's on you.

Why Veterans Day?

Posted by Anthony on November 11, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

Todays date, the Eleventh of November, Two-thousand and Eight, marks the ninetieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, after a little more than four years of the most horrific fighting in the history of military conflict, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. There are only a handful of survivors from the Great War left alive today; all are over one-hundred years of age, and before long we will have lost our last direct connections to those bloody years.

Especially in The United States, remembrance of the First World War is rather poor for various reasons: America did not enter the war until rather late (1917, whereas the war ended in 1918), and American memories of fighting a global war are shaped considerably more by the Second World War where America itself was attacked, and where the war involved a much more considerable investment in both lives and the economy. Europe, however, had a more sobering take on it: close to ten-million men lost their lives on the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Arriving during a transitional period, where military strategy had not yet caught up to modern technology, battles in this war were exercises in carnage. On the Somme, at Verdun, at Ypres, and on the Marne men fell at the rate of thousands per day. The combination of accurate artillery, dreadful sanitary conditions, and outmoded tactics led to casualty numbers that would today be not only unacceptable but unimaginable. During their offensive on the Somme River in 1916, British forces lost almost sixty-thousand men including over nineteen-thousand killed on the first day alone. Elsewhere, such as at Verdun where a half- million French and German troops became casualties, and Passchendaele where the artillery softened up the ground so much that after periods of rain many soldiers who were wounded simply sank into the mud and drowned, the war raged on and only ended when both sides ran out of men with whom to fight the war. The United States was lucky in this sense: during the two years of fighting, she lost slightly over one-hundred thousand soldiers. Compared to this, the French lost 1.4 million, the Germans two-million, the Russians 1.8 million, and the Austrians 1.1 million. The war ended with the near bankruptcy of The United Kingdom, the destruction of a large part of France and Belgium, and the dissolution of the Russian, German, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires.

The horrors of the war were such that the day of the war’s end was noted for years under the moniker “Armistice Day”, or in the British territories, “Remembrance Day”. After the Second World War, the name was changed to “Veterans Day” in The United States to honor all war veterans, not just those of the First World War. Yet it will never lose its connection to that dreadful conflict a century ago, nor should it, and in the years to come as the last of her survivors join their comrades in that final rest we must take special pains to keep alive their memories and histories.

The Flemish town of Ypres, located today in Belgium, was the location of several particularly bloody battles lasting almost the entire duration of the war. It was during the Second Battle of Ypres that a Canadian doctor named John McCrae was so moved by witnessing the death of a friend that he wrote what would become not only the most famous poem of the First World War, but one of the most famous poems of any war. An entire generation of men, so many of them young, were ripped from their families and loved ones simply to be slaughtered for a few miles of land. Capturing the essence of this futility, McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields as a tribute to those men who, as he himself eventually succumbed to pneumonia in 1918, would never again return home. The poem does not lend itself to an identifiable nationality; it is as equally applicable were it being read aloud by a German, French, British, or any other soldier. As another Veterans Day goes by, please do try and spend two minutes at the start of the eleventh hour remembering not only those for whom this poem was written, but also all those who have served, and continue to serve, in our Armed Forces today.

In Flanders Fields

By Lt.- Col John McCrae

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.

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