The sporting of plastic poppies on the lapel seems at first - to an uncivilized barbarian from the colonies - to be a breach of style (the British to this day are more formal than we).
Looking at it this way is looking at the surface, and missing the depths. Everyone knows Col. McCrae's poem In Flanders Field:
I prefer an older poem, one that dates back to Roman days and which was very popular in the years after the Civil War. I reproduce my Veteran's Day post from two years ago, because it still says what I feel.
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.
While in some ways I feel like I helped in the Cold War (my days at 3 Letter Intelligency Agency), in no way did I "serve":
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,This is the opening to Wilfred Owen's World War I poem, Dulce et decorum est. The complete line is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind
While this poem has become a centerpiece of the anti-war movement, the title is very, very old. Originally, it seems that it was first written by the Roman poet Horace (Odes, iii 2.13), but it's almost certain that it was a popular expression then, and always in reference to veterans. Certainly the expression was in common usage in the 19th century.
The grave of Thomas A. Henderson in Pine Hill Cemetery in Dover, NH. The inscription reads:
Thomas A. HendersonTo serve, and possibly to die in that service is a distinction that separates men like me from veterans. Thank you all, especially Dad, Uncle Dick (Semper fi, and rest in peace), and nephew Dan (Semper fi, and we're glad that you're back).
of the 7th Regt.
Son of Samuel H. & Delia
Born Dec. 1, 1833
Graduated at Bowdoin
College 1855 and at the
Harvard Law School 1861
Was admitted to the Suffolk
Bar Boston, the same year.
Died of a wound received
in action near James
River, Va. Aug. 16, 1864
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori..
And on this Veteran's Day, if you're lucky enough to buy a drink for a Veteran, here's a toast: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere, et dulcissimum pro patria bibere. Ergo, bibamus pro salute patriae.
"It is sweet to die for the homeland, but it is sweeter to live for the homeland, and the sweetest to drink for it. Therefore, let us drink to the health of the homeland."