Reflections read to the student community by Dick Bradford, Head of Upper School, Academic Dean at Morning Meeting
Today is November 11. In our country now, this is known now as Veterans Day. It wasn’t always so: Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day – is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918—major hostilities were formally ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. The holiday is marked by ceremonies at local war memorials, involving the laying of wreaths of poppies on the memorials and two minutes of silence at 11A.M.
After World War II the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day in the United States and to Remembrance Day in countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the commemoration extended to include veterans of that and later wars. “Poppy Day” is also a popular term used, particularly in Malta and South Africa, due to the connection of poppies with the day, an association that derives from the poem In Flanders Fields that described poppies growing among the crosses marking the graves of those who died in World War I. On Remembrance Day, public readings of this poem stress our debt to those who lost their lives as well as the importance of honoring their memory in ceremonies that focus on the sacrifice and sorrow of war. (From New World Encyclopedia)
Traditionally there is a parade in towns and cities across the country on this day. Here is a letter, published in the San Francisco Chronicle from a friend of mine, Kathleen Riyals, who came out to watch the Veterans parade in 2010 – she was struck by how few attended this parade in contrast to how many clogged the streets to celebrate the Giants the week before:
A patriotic pacifist by nature, I still stood in the rain in support of our Veterans at their parade.
I don’t support any of our current conflicts nor believe we embarked on them in the name of what the best of us stand for.
Yet, in my work with the indigent, I have seen veterans who have served because they believed it would make a difference.
I have also repeatedly seen how forgotten and discriminated against veterans are when they come home. There were hundreds at the recent “Stand Down” event in Alameda County all in need of shelter and services.
The juxtaposition of today’s poorly attended parade and the Giants parade was shocking. State Sen. Mark Leno walked in the rain next to those who served. Wouldn’t it have been great to see Giants pitcher Brian Wilson here?
Wouldn’t it make a difference in our country if more of us understood that what makes us great and free must be remembered and honored? The redirection of our wealth and resources in a global effort for peace and prosperity must begin with that reflection, or America will be lost.
It may in fact be too easy for all of us – current conflicts seem far away and removed from our realities. We need to be aware that for many of our citizens, their reality includes those conflicts. We also need to remember that the world is a complex place; finding common ground is often difficult, but that is the task before all of us. Know that our troops, as they have been returning from Iraq and will return from Afghanistan, after great sacrifice and service, face a clearly uncertain future.
“We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their careers, leave their families, and risk their lives to fight for our country,” President Obama said. “The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home.”
Here is a poem “In Flanders Field”, written by a British soldier, John McCrae, who noticed how quickly poppies grew in the graveyard of the dead:
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 will ring the bell today 11 times at 11 am to commemorate the signing of the truce to end World War I on November 11 at 11 am in 1918, as well as honor all those who have served in defense of their country’s freedom — and to hope that the world will one day find lasting peace.