Yesterday we marked Memorial Day weekend with a family backyard barbeque; it's an annual tradition. This year we had four different generations at our gathering, representing every generation from the Silent Generation to the Millennials.

Since every guy at our gathering had some form of military experience (former U.S. Navy officer, former enlisted U.S. Navy, and current U.S. Army ROTC), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig deeper. So I decided to take a busman’s holiday by asking questions of each generation.

The topic?

Memorial Day, of course.

I started off by putting my foot in my mouth – by asking if the members of the Silent Generation had any memories of seeing Civil War veterans at Memorial Day parades in their youth.

(Note to self – do not tick off the cook by insinuating he is older than dirt.)

I quickly backtracked, suggesting that I meant World War I (though I still think it is theoretically possible that Civil War veterans were around in the 1940s, this was not an argument worth winning while dinner was cooking on the barbeque).

After some chatter about experiencing Memorial Day parades in small towns, we segued to a discussion about the significance of red poppies on Memorial Day. This led to some conjecture as to the author of the poem, In Flanders Field, which I was pretty sure had some reference to poppies, even though I couldn’t remember anything more than the title.

I suggested Rupert Brooke (right era, right war, wrong poet) but a quick trip to Google proved me wrong. (Not Rupert Brooks, but Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD of the Canadian Army, in case you were wondering).

In the past, the librarian and the professor in the family would have traipsed over to the study, pulled out various volumes of poetry, and spent some time trying to find the answer, stumbling across other interesting information along the way, reading snippets of poetry out loud to the rest of the family.

Today, we simply walk over to the laptop in the kitchen, google a phrase, and retrieve the answer.

I’m old enough that I’m not sure this is an improvement.

Then again, linking one's way through the internet can also yield some interesting gems, such as the fact that poppies, as wildflowers, strew seeds through fields. When these fields became battlefields, the dirt churned up by soldiers' trampling brought more seeds to the surface, resulting in a field of red poppies and leading John McCrae to pen these lines:

In Flanders' Field

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.

So, after some banter about the challenges of affixing red poppies to marching band instruments for Memorial Day parades, and some somber words about fallen soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conversation about Memorial Day petered out.

We sorted ourselves by gender and generation – to wash dishes, watch the NBA playoffs, and play World of Warcraft.

But I kept thinking about the significance of Memorial Day – through dinner and dessert and dishes and the drive home.

I thought about Private Lori Piestewa, a third generation soldier, Hopi Indian, and the first American Indian woman killed in combat while serving with the U.S. Military. She’s been memorialized in a few ways – her name has been given to a peak in the Phoenix Mountain range and the organizers of the Grand Canyon Games have remembered her with the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games.

But Lori Piestewa is never far from my thoughts because her story is included in a textbook I use to teach Moral Philosophy every term. The context is whether women should be in allowed in combat.

I’ve always thought that there are some ideas and ideals worth dying for. My list may vary from yours, but I’d wager that most folks have a list of some things for which they’d consider giving their lives. The argument that we women, by virtue of our sex, should be exempt from this sacrifice (in a military context) has never convinced me.

Granted, war is a terrible thing. And still, the enormity of combat does not detract from the sacrifices that so many have made.

To give one’s life in support of an ideal, be it freedom, democracy, or the potential for liberty, is noble.

On this Memorial Day Monday, consider taking a few minutes of your time to reflect upon on those who died fighting and what they died for.

Image credit: detail from "Oriental Poppies", Georgia O'Keefe, 1928, silkscreen

Views: 64

Comment by dolores on May 25, 2009 at 2:03pm
Thank you BB for that. Sometimes people get so overwhelmed with being "anti war" no matter what that one forgets about those men and women. I sure do wish we would treat our vets better after they are not useful to us (USA) any longer and they come home to struggle with health , emotional and financial issues. It seem so shameful
You know what, I had not given a thought to what day it was, what holiday, or those soldiers past or present.
I was too busy caught up in my own drama. So that was a beautiful reminder.
Comment by Barelas Babe on May 25, 2009 at 8:25pm
Dolores - that's an important point. Vets sure don't always get the treatment they deserve, do they? And it is shameful that they are not treated better. Thanks for the reminder and the kind words.
Comment by Rita on May 25, 2009 at 10:21pm

BB, thanks for the kind words on behalf of all our veterans. As the wife of one veteran and the mother of another who happens to live in a large "retiree" location, our local vets are not often overlooked. However, I sometimes wonder if the rest of America remembers that we do have two wars to contend with, as well as the returning men and women. I didn't happen to love these wars, only my warriors. The older vets are amazing people, quite fun to talk with, and I encourage it at every opportunity. On average, we lose 1,000 WWII veterans each day and their numbers are dwindling. Our troops of today face many obstacles, many of whom cannot overcome these obstacles; high rates of murder & suicide in the war zone are a testament to their stress. No matter our opinion on our military's current situation we should always pray for and be thankful for our warriors. My family was fortunate in that both father and son, who were once deployed to Afghanistan simultaneously, returned home safe and sound. Hug a vet regularly--I do!
Comment by SoyJames on May 26, 2009 at 5:47am
Awesome post.
Comment by dolores on May 26, 2009 at 7:33am
Rita " I dont love these wars, only the warriors. " Tweaked a bit but certainly a quote to remember.
Comment by Dick on May 26, 2009 at 8:08am
I may be the "older than dirt" cook, but I still didn't see any civil war vets in parades.
p.s. googling "last living civil war vet." revealed that a few were still around in the mid to late 1950's.
Comment by Barelas Babe on May 26, 2009 at 8:52am

@Dick - OK Dad, you got me! But you will admit that it was within the realm of possibility, hmmm?


In all seriousness - thanks as usual for the fab hospitality. (And be sure to check out today's Morning Fix link
on BBQ = Cancer. Perhaps we should grill more vegies next time, eh?
Comment by Spring Griffin on May 26, 2009 at 11:49am
BB, thanks for sharing so many beautiful thoughts with us this Memorial Day.
Comment by La Fanciulla del West on May 26, 2009 at 7:55pm

Red poppies are also quite symbolic to the Poles, whose soldiers died on the hillside of Monte Cassino during WWII:

Red Poppies on Monte Cassino (Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino)

Monte Cassino in Italy is famous not only as a beautiful mountain with an old monastery on the top. The monastery is famous as a cradle of Benedictine Order and one of the pillars of Christianity - built about 529 A.D. Monte Cassino hill is also a strategic place, situated about eighty miles south of Rome.

During World War II, a famous battle, actually a costly series of battles took place at Monte Cassino (also known as a Battle for Rome). It was fought by the allied forces with an intention of breaking through the German defense line and seizing Rome. In the decisive and final part of the battle Polish soldiers took action (May 11-May 19, 1944) - about forty thousands of Polish soldiers from 2nd Polish Corps, under a command of a famous General Anders. Polish attack contributed to a final victory greatly, Poles were also the first who were able to reach the top of the hill and put Polish flag there.

The fight was heavy, about a thousand of Polish soldiers died, also many thousands of soliers from the other Allied forces died. Poles have been buried on a cemetery on the slope of Monte Cassino mountain.


Since the mountain was full of beautiful red poppies when the battle took place, in May 1944, a song entitled - Red Poppies on Monte Cassino was written almost immediately afterwards. It was finished in a couple of hours after a victory and performed the next day after the battle to the Polish troops - and became known almost immediately!
Music was written by Alfred Schutz (1910-1999) and words by Feliks Konarski (1907-1991). The song commemorates the heroism of Polish soldiers and links them to poppies - which, according to the song, were nourished by Polish blood thus they are so red.

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Below is a fragment (translated into English):

Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew, drank Polish blood.
As the soldier crushed them in falling,
For the anger was more potent than death.
Years will pass and ages will roll,
But traces of bygone days will stay,
And the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder having quaffed Polish blood.

This excerpt is from: Czerwone Maki na Monte Cassino

Red poppies are not only a symbol of Polish military. The poppy became widely accepted throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance to be worn on Armistice Day after World War I.

Recommended reading(s):
Monte Cassino: The Story of the Most Controversial Battle of World War II

Monte Cassino : The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II by Matthew Parker (Author)


Comment by Barelas Babe on May 27, 2009 at 7:56am
@ LFdW - thanks for posting this fascinating information. History, music, botany - you've made my morning!


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