Holiday weekend, first and foremost, about remembering

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

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 your 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."

-- John McCrae

Maj. John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade in World War I, penned "In Flanders Fields" after witnessing the suffering and deaths of soldiers during heavy fighting in northern France. The wild poppies which grew in abundance there provided a sharp contrast to war's brutality. The poppy later became a symbol for remembrance for fallen soldiers because of McCrae's poem.

For most of us, the primary meaning of Memorial Day is a break from work. It's a day to christen the arrival of summer with barbecues, picnics, fishing trips, camping adventures and strolls along the beach.

The pursuit of fun on an extra day off sometimes clouds the somber significance of the holiday: to honor those service men and women who died fighting for our country.

But as the United States once again finds itself embroiled in another war, we are reminded that the sacrifices made for freedom aren't abstract concepts but very real lives. Those who died serving and defending the United States of America are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. They are all someone's loved ones.

The first U.S. soldier to be killed by enemy fire in the war on terrorism was Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman of San Antonio, Texas. He had volunteered for the mission in Afghanistan. His family, including his wife Renae, and his two young children, know firsthand the high cost of the freedoms most Americans take for granted.

It is because of the sacrifice of Sgt. 1st Class Chapman and those other soldiers who have died in the war on terrorism and all previous wars that we are able to enjoy such a care-free holiday as Monday will bring.

In the midst of other activity, however, we encourage Kenai Peninsula residents to pause and reflect on the price that has been paid for the freedoms we enjoy. There will be an opportunity to do just that in the ceremony of remembrance planned for 1:30 p.m. Monday at Kenai's Leif Hansen Memorial Park.

Today's Peninsula Clarion contains the stories of residents who show by example the meaning of patriotism and Memorial Day. Joe and Rachel Jurco have developed a special niche by organizing the annual patriotic essay competitions for young people for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 in Soldotna. Their story is told in the Peninsula Life section. Elsewhere, father and son Frank and Greg Getty continue their Mother's Day project to spruce up Kenai Cemetery. Their story is on Page A-1 of today's Clarion.

Memorial Day offers a perfect opportunity not only to honor those who have given their lives for our country, but it also offers a chance to connect the present with the past. It's a time to remember that the freedom we enjoy today is no accident.

It's a good day to shed our nonchalance about patriotism and what it means to be an American. Thousands of men and women have died to ensure this country will remain strong and free -- and more deaths in the war on terrorism are expected. The only way to ensure these deaths are not in vain is to take time to reflect on them.

And to work for peace.

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