This Sunday marks Veterans Day, though I prefer the Remembrance Day term used in the United Kingdom and Canada, as it makes clear this should be a day to solemnly remember and honor those who have defended the nation: the fallen, the wounded and those who survived the test of fire and battle.
By the way, you don't do that by going to a Veterans Day sale, an abomination I can remember my father (who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II) railing about in 1957.
So here are some suggestions on how to remember on this Veterans and Remembrance Day.
A Moment of Silence
Remembrance Day stems from the end of World War I, which occurred at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day in 1918 -- the first time the guns of war were silenced in four years -- and is still honored with a minute of silence in the United Kingdom and Canada.
I can still remember the poignant silences of Veterans Day ceremonies of my youth with my father -- one minute in which the world stopped, so we could hear the march of the fallen.
That moment of silence seems to have disappeared in our celebration of Veterans Day, so let's reclaim it once again from the cacophony of boomboxes, car stereos, 110-channel televisions and iPods.
Turn off the noise, stand at attention at the appointed minute and hour Sunday, and join me in 60 seconds of silent honor.
We could start a trend.
Wear a Poppy
This tradition also goes back to World War I. In the ravaged battlefields of France and Belgium, wild poppies sprouted amid the death and destruction. Ever since, poppies have been a symbol of sacrifice, worn to remember those who paid the ultimate price.
The VFW will sell cloth poppies this weekend, with funds from the sales going to aid disabled and hospitalized veterans. Buy one and then wear it in your lapel. Yeah, it*s hokey, but it still packs a lot of symbolism.
"In Flanders Fields"
The connection between poppies and sacrifice was marked by the poem "In Flanders Fields," written in 1915 by Canadian Army surgeon Lt. Col. John McCrae.
Here it is:
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.
Check out Some Veterans Poetry
If you are in Washington this weekend, definitely check out the veterans poetry slam hosted by, among others, my Marine buddy Mike McDonnell and his pals in the Memorial Day Writers Project.
You can find them (and me) in a tent located on the east side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, just off Constitution Avenue. The readings are from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and all are welcome to participate. I'll have with me the first poetry I have written since I was 14.
Real men can rhyme.
Make Your Own Honor Roll
Take some time to compile a list of veterans, write it down, and then after the moment of silence, recite their names with fond remembrance.
Here's my list:
- Walter Brewin
Army Air Corps
The Philippines and Okinawa
- William Suess
(My father in-law)
Tin Can Sailor
Atlantic and Pacific
Marine Maj. Cornelius Herbert Ram
The best company commander I ever had
Vietnam, Jan. 10, 1971
- Lewis B. Puller Jr.
Who showed me grace
In the basement of the Pentagon.