Remembrance Day from a Veteran’s Perspective
Dad, besides being a postie and a “regular” pastor was also padre of the North and West Vancouver Legions. He also served as a Radio operator and lineman in WW II and was wounded near Caen. When he lived at New Horizons Community of Care, he gave this talk at their Remembrance Day Service in 2009.
“Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, let we forget – lest we forget. Today is Remembrance Day, a day of which we remember. Remember what? I suspect that the most difficult task we will have is to remember that it is Remembrance Day.
Today, if previous customs hold true, in many of the newspapers throughout the country there will be published lovely pictures of places that we have decorated and forgotten. There will be large fields of white crosses, graceful stone monuments, flowers, flags and fountains. Most of us find it rather easy to look at such things without remembering too much. Rows and rows of white crosses don’t do much but form a rather attractive geometric pattern against the green grass. It makes for pretty pictures. But for many of us, it is rather difficult for us to forget what’s under those crosses. The memory is seared too deeply into heart and mind ever to be erased. I must apologize if I find it hard to forget. If I did not stand here on this day and remember, if I did not speak a word of these who died, if I did not say the things that I am sure that they would say to you, then I would be defaulting in a sacred trust, the most sacred trust that one man can place upon another – his life.
How will we remember? The simple face is that most people won’t. For most it’s just a holiday, a day of recreation, or simply another business day. But those who do remember, how will we do it?
When I was a school boy, we used to hear it or recite it every Remembrance Day:
‘In Flander’s Fields, the poppies grow, Beneath the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, while 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 falling 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.
Some people today have never heard those words, nor know what they refer to, or where Flanders Fields were. I wonder why? Could it be that the words sounds a bit silly and sentimental, even a bit ominous – ‘If ye break faith with us who die’ or is it that we would hate admitting the uselessness of that terrible sacrifice with so many wards coming one after the other – so many wars that we had to start numbering them.
What shall we say then, this remembrance day? Shall we say that the sacrifice was stupid, useless, and senseless? Shall we, with the ultimate cynicism write the whole thing off as a bad show? Shall we give each grave a consoling pat with the comforting words, ;Nice try Buddy. You gave it everything you had, Too bad it didn’t pay off.’ No! In God’s Name , no!
Winston Churchill wrote in the preface of one of his books on the war years: ‘I have called this volume ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ because, so far, the overwhelming victory of the grand alliance has failed to bring peace to an anxious world.
Yes, there is always the tragedy. We have failed so often. We have so often broken faith with those who died. Why did they die? So we could eat apple pie and boo the referee? Hogwash! I think I know why they died. They knew that liberty is not a destination, it is a journey. There was in each one of them a strong sense of mission. They sensed that their mission was not just to protect their own skins or the skins of their countrymen. They had a mission to all the enslaved people of the earth. Their fight was not just an isolated moment in history. It was part of the main stream of the human story, a mission of bringing God’s freedom to all the enslaved of the world.
What shall we say of those who died? That history has not yet vindicated their sacrifice? The fact that we have not yet brought peace to the world? The fact that we have broken faith , again and again, with our honored dead? The fact that we no longer grieve nor remember?
All of this does not alter one iota the magnificence and the selfless nobility of their sacrifice. Our Lord carried the efficacy of their sacrifice into His World: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’
Disparage it as we will, minimize it as we will, forget it as we will, they know why they had fought. They knew why they were willing to die, and that cause will be forever victorious – truth, liberty and right!
If the tragedy of all these words and all of these dead has done nothing but finally convince the people of the earth that no one, no nation, can gain anything by war, and that we must begin in this world to talk to each other instead of shooting at each other, then all of their sacrifice has not been in vain.