“To you from failing hands we throw the torch”

There was an assembly at my kid’s school, yesterday morning.  To mark Remembrance Day, the students laid wreaths, real-live soldiers spoke to them, two minutes of silence were observed.

 

Remembrance Day has always kicked me in the gut.  Anything to do with the military, really.  Watching families send their dads, moms, husbands, wives, sons, daughters off to foreign lands, knowing, accepting that they may not come back.   Young people with stern haircuts, steeled jaws getting onto transport planes, staring off into the distance at things I can’t see.  Flag draped coffins coming back.  And even farther back, hearing stories from old men, who sat in muddy foxholes and froze and watched their friends get blown apart.  Realizing that soon, there won’t be any of those old men to tell the stories.

 

I knew, going into the assembly, that I’d cry.  I didn’t want to.

 

Things I thought about, in an effort not to cry:

1.  I don’t begrudge the Royal Canadian Legion one cent of the money I have dropped into donation boxes for the poppies we have taken.  I really don’t.  But good gravy, we’ve been through a half dozen of the little plastic buggers

IMGP1945(image from here)

in the last week.  Surely we can come up with a design that can remain affixed to a lapel for more than 60 seconds?

2.  Those teenaged Cadets sure look innocent.  Too bad my husband was one when he was a kid.  And that I know what goes on at Cadet Camp.

3.  I totally forgot that every year, the Legion ran an essay contest.  And every year, I won.  Right up to the national level.  And at each level, there was a cash prize.  And that cash prize was where I got a good portion of my high school drinking money.  I’ve since drunk with the folks at the Legion, so I’m pretty sure they would have been cool with it.

 

But none of these thoughts worked.

 

Tears rolled.

 

It’s always “In Flanders Fields” that gets me.  (For the background of the poem, please visit this site.)

 

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.

– John McCrae

 

It’s that last stanza: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.”  It makes me think of the conflict dragging on in Afghanistan, of the roll of names that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end, the god damned futility of it all.

 

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(photo is “In Flanders Fields” by xollob58)

 

 

If you have ever served in the military, if you have a family member who has left you behind to serve in the military, and if you’ve ever lost someone who served in the military –

 

Thank you.  Thank you so much.

 

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30 responses to ““To you from failing hands we throw the torch”

  1. I always cry on Remembrance Day too

    • I guess I just feel weird about it, because I’ve never personally been involved with the military in any way. But it still hits me really hard and I don’t know why.

  2. I cry too. Every year.

    And the poppies over here in the UK are no different. I’ve bought 6 this year!!

  3. blessed are their souls.

  4. May we honor their sacrifice by increasing their ranks to the smallest possible degree.

  5. been fighting tears all morning as i read heartfelt posts thanking veterans. but it was your inclusion of “flanders” that got them pouring out of my face… veterans. sadly? we’ll just keep making more…

    • I wish that weren’t true.

      The Boy was talking about war, because they’d been discussing it in school. He said if it was up to him he’d go into the middle of a war and just yell at the soldiers to stop and give them a time out. And I had to turn his idea upside down on him, and tell him it’s not the soldiers who need the time out, but the evil little men in power who send them out to fight who need the time out.

  6. Veterans day always fills me with both pride and bitterness for the exact same reason: It’s really the only day the vast majority of Americans stop for a moment and think about the things we’ve seen and done, the hells we’ve been through for them.

    • For what it’s worth, I think about it a lot. I am so disappointed in the media lately (over-hyping H1N1, licking their collective chops over the bad-news story that is the economy) but the one thing I appreciate is the fact that every time soldiers are deployed from our city, the media is there, showing us the families being torn apart. And every single time one of our soldiers dies, his or her face gets its place on the news.

      I think of them a lot.

  7. My wife, who is a Marine, went over to Iraq a few years back, fortunetly she was stationed on an Air Force base set in the safer part of Iraq, as safe as Iraq could be back then. I prayed every day for her safe return, where I could just hold her in my arms. She came back to me, and about a year later our daughter was born. I am proud of what she did for herself, us, and her country, and anyone else that takes up the fight for those who can’t.

  8. my cousin is in the thick of it over in afghanistan. it tears me apart, because i couldn’t even tell you what we’re fighting for over there, just that were needlessly losing lives.

    i’ve stopped answering the phone when my family calls, and instead let it go to voicemail. i don’t want to get “that call” without time to prepare myself.

  9. Parasitism aside, it saddens me we don’t even have a mention of veteran’s day in India, let alone pay homage.

    This despite over 1.3 million soldiers of Indian ancestry fought in the First World War & 2.5 million Indian soldiers fought in the Second World War. It, till date, remains the largest volunteer army ever assembled in the history of the world.

    And we don’t even honor our own. It’s a damn shame.

  10. Dude, I bawl. I unabashedly bawl. If dating an American does nothing else, it sure as hell makes you appreciate being Canadian more and more every day. I’m so glad Josh is with me on eventually making this our permanent home, even if I have to leave for a bit to help him get back over.

    I hid in a boardroom while they played Last Post.

  11. Beautiful post Ginny. Thank you.

  12. Very nice post. Another lovely poem of the same genre is “Dulce et decorum est.”

  13. Remembrance Day is special to me too. My dad was a WW2 vet and went through a ritual every Nov. 11. He brought out his medals, polished them, and thought about what he and his fellow soldiers went through. To honor him, I make sure that I spend the week before Nov. 11 teaching my class about the significance of Nov. 11. (Stories, poems, art projects, etc.) We have an assembly too, with not many dry eyes by the end of it. I go to the cenotaph with my husband.

    And the poppy, stick the pin through your shirt, and then up through the poppy itself. Works every time!

  14. Wonderful post, Ginny. And I know that those who serve appreciate it when people notice. If there is any good coming from the current conflicts, it seems that many of the younger generation are becoming disenchanted with the idea as they see what it is doing to their friends and family members.

  15. My eyes are welled up in tears right now not just from your post, but everyone’s responses.

    I have such a huge and deep respect for any one who is serving, has served or will serve.

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