Flanders Fields – Music Monday

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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War is not the answer?

While driving across the I-90 floating bridge into Seattle a few days ago I couldn’t help but notice a sticker on the rear window of a Prius. You’ve probably seen one yourself. “War is not the answer” it read.

Sorry, I beg to differ!

We live in times when barely a week goes by without reading, seeing or at least hearing of yet another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. The most recent was Thursday’s vicious assault by an Islamist terrorist group on innocent, unarmed university students in Kenya, Africa. The massacre took the lives of 148 students.
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Our government and our naïve citizenry, just like the one in the Prius, need to wake up! What’s it going to take? Must we bear a similar attack, or even worse, here in the United States to wake these types up to the stark reality? This is war, like it or not! A war centered on the fanatical religious beliefs of the insane. These are tyrants whose desire is to advance the cause of Islam, no matter the cost or the method.

The length of time, as well as the price we’ll have to pay to defend ourselves against this enemy, will be long and costly. It already has been. It’s a struggle that could be without end and with no victors. Certainly nothing can be accomplished in ridding the world — if even possible — of these sick madmen without our united resolve.

We must be fierce, relentless and bold. We must take actions meant not for the faint-of-heart. And finally, we must take this war to the enemy. Our only defense against these sick, degenerate maniacs is offensive. We simply have to take the battle to them and engage them without restraint. It’s either them or us.

I choose us!

Many good people promote peace by opposing war.  They advocate laws or treaties to abolish war, to require disarmament, or to reduce armed forces. Those methods may reduce the likelihood or the costs of war.  But opposition to war cannot ensure peace, because peace is more than the absence of war. ~~ Dallin H. Oaks

Young Love: War Interrupted

Stories of young love are often remembered as the folly of our youth. They are the stuff that is part of growing up. A few sometimes strike our youthful, tender spirits with the sting of heartbreak, just as it can in adulthood. Such is puppy love and the price we pay for being teenagers. But few young romances are enveloped in the drama of war, surrounded by a devastated world. This is the story of Anne and Peter Schiff and of a missing image that took more than 60 years to be discovered. Continue reading

Favorite Quotes Friday – 2/14/2014

Ooops! A Day Early …

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

Music Monday – Christmas in the Trenches

It is good that war is so terrible, lest we become too fond of it.
~~ General Robert E. Lee ~~

Time for another Music Monday and since this is the holiday season this latest installment will be all about… what else?  Christmas!

Even in the depths of bitter war Christmas can bring its indelible influence and for a short time, peace on earth, goodwill toward men can rise above the carnage.  Probably no better example is the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914.  It was a brief pause in a violent and desperate fight between British and German soldiers on the Western Front during what was called by earlier generations the Great War…  more commonly known today as World War One.

This true event made world-wide news and was later memorialized in a ballad as seen through the eyes of a fictional British officer Francis Tolliver.  The song was written by American folk singer and story-teller John McCutcheon.  My favorite version is performed by the Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott. Continue reading

War’s Death Watch, Part 3 of 3

The following is the third and final installment of what was originally titled A Burial at Sea: Remembrances of a Casualty Notification Officer.USMC Eagle, Anchor & Globe  It was written by Lt. Colonel George Goodson, U.S.M.C. (Retired) and published in the Marine Corps Gazette in September 2007.  Because of it’s length it was divided here into three parts.  Part 1 was published Tuesday, part 2 yesterday.

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More Notifications and Funerals

More notifications and funerals followed.  My staff and I were numb.  The tension was palpable.  My marriage was affected; it ultimately failed.  My corpsman was so alarmed that he insisted on taking blood pressure readings on everyone–twice a day.  My staff and I ran 5 miles daily trying to reduce the stress.

My Last Notifcation: A Burial at Sea

One day while I was running, Sergeant Jolley stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth… I never could do that… and held an imaginary phone to his ear.  I waved acknowledgement and went into the office.  Jolley handed me the phone.  It was another call from Headquarters Marine Corps.  I took notes and said, “Got it.”  I hung up.  I had stopped saying “thank you” long ago. Continue reading