How many of us have considered the poppies handed out on Memorial and Veteran’s Days and the history contained therein? Poppies draw us to battle fields of Flanders, Belgium, and the row upon row of white crosses found there, a lasting memory of World War 1, The War to End All Wars. The battle fields of Flanders include some of the bloodiest battles of World War I. After the war, the citizens of Belgium provided to the United States ground where we could bury our fallen heroes. Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War I cemetery on the southeast edge of the town of Waregem, Belgium. This is the only American World War 1 cemetery in Belgium and 411 American servicemen are buried or commemorated there. Many of them fell at Spitaals Bosschen, an action of the Ypres-Lys Campaign by the 91st Infantry Division in the closing days of World War I.
This cemetery is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and occupies a six acre site. As with all Allied war cemeteries, the land was provided in perpetuity by the Belgian government. The headstones are aligned in four symmetrical areas around the white stone chapel that stands in the center of the cemetery. The side walls of the chapel are inscribed with the names of 43 missing American servicemen who have no known graves. The ABMC also administers two American cemeteries in Belgium for World War II casualties: Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial; and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.
The cemetery is in the area known as Flanders Fields, where fierce fighting took place throughout the war. A Canadian, Dr. John McCrae, wrote the poem In Flanders Fields on May 3, 1915, after witnessing the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, the day before.
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.
I had the very great distinction of visiting this cemetery while stationed in Brunssum, The Netherlands, in the early 1980’s. I can state unequivocally that visiting this and other US Cemeteries in Europe and Asia were humbling experiences. At each I was reminded that Freedom is not Free. On this Memorial Day, please remember those who died that we and other Americans might enjoy the fruits of freedom and liberty.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; we give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our county. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of the presence, that the good work which Thou hast begun in them may be perfected, through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Amen