Music Monday – Flanders Fields

It was the early days of World War I in the Second Battle near the town of Ypres. A 22-year old Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, from the explosion of a German artillery shell. He died 102 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1915.

Ypres a small, ancient Belgian town saw some of the most intense and sustained battles during the war. Helmer was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as his friend, doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.

John McCrea

The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.

As the brigade doctor, McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis. Later that evening, in his grief, for his lost friend, he began the draft for the poem In Flanders Field.

Written from the perspective of the dead it speaks of their sacrifice and serves as their wish for the living, that they press on. It became one of the most notable poems of its era and has attained iconic status in Canada.

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.

_________________________________________________________

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Thoughts on Veterans Day, 2016

I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor as a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and with them came many opportunities.

I came away from those days so much more the benefactor. I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It was the least I could do for it.

If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.

On this day, while I salute all those who took the pledge — those who wear and wore the uniform — I remember especially those who I knew personally, those who never returned to their homes and family. The 6 crew members of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food and vending machines.” The F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfunctioned killing him and another firefighter on my crew. And then finally a high school classmate, Robert Bolt “R.B.” Dickerson an 18 year old Marine killed in South Vietnam in May of 1971.

There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price and whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.

A Letter to Friends and Citizens

Washington_Farewell_Broadside

A broadside of Washington’s Farewell Address, from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress

It came to be known as George Washington’s Farewell Address.  But it was never given as a speech. Distributed instead as a letter to the people of the United States it’s considered one of the most important documents in American history.

In his letter to “Friends and Citizens,” Washington devoted most of it to offer advice as a “parting friend” on what he believed were the greatest threats to the survival of a fledging nation. Among his subjects were foreign relations and free trade, credit and government borrowing as well as political factions and the party system. The letter is a masterpiece and, although written 218 years ago, his advice is worthy of our attention as it still governs much of our public affairs today. Just as Ronald Reagan did more recently George Washington looked ahead to the country’s future with great optimism.

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American Exceptionalism: Is This a Great Country or What?

Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations. ~~ John Adams letter to William Cushing, June 9, 1776

I try to avoid writing about the political but from time to time it happens. Like most people I want to be liked. I want my words to bring smiles and pleasure. I want my stories bookmarked, remembered and my opinions respected. But I make no apologies about my occasional writings of the political kind. I just can’t help myself. Bad enough to hear it from outsiders but I get irked from time to time when I hear our own citizens tearing down our country. A lot has been said and written about American Exceptionalism, so time for me to write a little about it from my perspective, as well as an historical one. Continue reading

Favorite Quotes Friday – 2/14/2014

This is dedicated to the memory of all the heroes. Not just those from my school days, and those from my days in the military during the Vietnam era, all who died too soon, but especially in remembrance of the nameless, forgotten ones. From wars and battles long past.

But to the hero, when his sword

Has won the battle for the free,

Thy voice sounds like a prophet’s word;

And in its hollow tones are heard

The thanks of millions yet to be.

~~ Marco Bozzaris, verse by Fitz-Greene Halleck, American Poet

D-Day – Taking the Moment

NOTE: This post was first published on June 6, 2013.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe at the Normandy beaches of northern France.  “To set free a suffering humanity” is how Franklin Roosevelt defined its purpose that evening. Earlier in the morning Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower broadcast to the troops this message:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade…. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies … you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one…. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle…. Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Among the young Americans who landed on Omaha Beach in the second assault wave was my uncle Eli Lines. Two days later, somewhere far from home in the French countryside, he would mark his 22nd birthday.

EliandMaryLines

Eli & His Wife Mary circa 1945

But on June 6, 1944 as he fought his way ashore, fighting for his very survival — to reach dry, safer ground — left behind, he noted, were the bodies of hundreds of dead or dying Americans. The casualties at Omaha Beach alone would number in the thousands. He once told me, “the water was red with blood.” It was in fact the bloodiest battle in American history since the Civil War. The first 21-minutes of the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan vividly depicts the chaos, the suffering, the inhumanity, the bravery. In reality it was far worse, much more difficult than portrayed. No movie could ever do that fight justice.

In 1945 when Eli returned home he like many of his fellow combat soldiers was a changed man, but no doubt a better man forged by unmentionable horror, suffering and sacrifice. One thing is certain, he lived a good and honorable life. My uncle is gone now and around 1000 World War II veterans die each day. Too soon the time will come when they’ll all be gone. But what they did and what they accomplished at those beaches and across Europe and throughout the Pacific — those young men of the Greatest Generation should never be forgotten.

The Allied landing on the beaches at Normandy marked the beginning of the end of World War II — a conflict of such vast suffering as to defy comprehension. Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson wrote: “This is the greatest catastrophe in human history. There’s 60 million people who die in World War II. It’s a death every three seconds for six years.” In his new book about the liberation of Europe, The Guns at Last Light, Atkinson quotes a German general who called the battle for Normandy “a monstrous blood mill.”

Let us never forget June 6, 1944 …

Normandy Cross

Bradley Kritzer – An American Hero

Pfc. Bradley Kritzer

Today* would have been his 27th birthday. An all-American boy from small-town America. Bradley G. Kritzer, like many from the small boroughs of central Pennsylvania’s Clearfield county loved the outdoors and someday hoped to work there with an organization like the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Brad is a lot like many of my cousins with hunting and fishing a favorite pastime.  It is said that he grew up with a rifle in hand, hunting turkey and deer with his father and going fishing every chance he got. Brad is a distant cousin whose life I was drawn closer to by the tragedy of his death. Continue reading