Remembrance Day in England and Canada is on November 11th. It’s like what we in the USA used to call Armistice Day and, after the Second World War, Veterans Day. Most of my country’s citizens have no idea where Flanders Field is or that it was the battleground for one of the lousiest and most brutal battles of World War One. It is the site commemorated by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem “In Flanders Field” that bestowed upon us the tradition of old veterans handing out red paper poppies on a day that honors their service and the sacrifice that they, their comrades and friends and their families have made.
It is said that the broad territory of Flanders, fought over tooth and nail with every weapon from the newfangled tank to bayonets and bare hands, sprouted in an abundance of tiny crimson flowers as the soldiers’ last blood had seeped into the soil and silence fell. There was no sound but the wailing of the wounded and the far away weeping of mothers and lovers.
Reminded of this story, I have to mention Richard Noble. I met him when I was about thirty years old. He was then over ninety. He was the first American pilot to fly into that terrible rain of shit called World War One. He had to learn French before leaving the family farm in Hadley, Mass. He then had to spend his past few month's savings to take a boat to France and talk his way into getting a pilot's license. The USA did not issue them as it had no military air force nor commercial air. Then he had to talk the freshly minted RAF into giving him a Sopwith Camel from which he could drop grenades from the open cockpit of his rickety and infernal beast made of cloth and slats of wood with a load of sputtering steel weighing down its barely controllable craziness in flight. He tossed those little bombs down on guys close enough to rip up his flying machine with large caliber rifles and gatling guns and thus kill him after first inflicting a lot of bloody hurt.
I was privileged to meet this guy. Even as he neared the century mark, he was ram rod straight and brighter than a full Moon on a still, clear night. I do not recommend war, I argue against most, but there are occasions when I get reminded not to confuse the war with the warrior. If you got folks coming home from war, I recommend just thanking them for their service and seeing where the conversation might lead, if anywhere. You both might learn something that was unexpected.
Hic Finis Est,