The United States separated its commemoration of living veterans of military service (whom it honors today) from that of those who died serving their country, which it honors on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. However, for most of the rest of the former British Empire, December 11th is Armistice Day, the date on which the First World War, the “War To End All Wars”, finally drew to a close. It’s also the day on which they honor and commemorate those who died in war.
I grew up in the Empire tradition, and to me November 11th is still a day of solemn remembrance. I remember Flynn, about whose life and death I wrote on Armistice Day back in 2010. I remember all those with whom I served, many of whom are no longer with us. As I grow older, I can even remember my enemies without rancor. So many of them are dead, too… and I don’t believe there are old enmities and hatreds among the dead. They’ve passed (I hope and trust) beyond such earthly preoccupations. It would be sad indeed to think that eternity would be no more than a re-hashing of the ancient conflicts of temporal existence.
So, yes, here in the USA, by all means let’s honor our veterans. There’s precious little honor accorded to them by those who currently control the reins of power in this country, so those of us who are veterans, and those who respect their service to their country, will have to show our appreciation on a more personal level.
On the other hand, I still remember my maternal grandfather, slowly coughing his way to death after a gas attack in the trenches during World War I. He was gone by the time I was old enough to think for myself, but I still remember the ghastly cough… cough… spit… choke… cough from the room he shared with my grandmother in my parents’ house. He didn’t have to be told about the poppies in Flanders fields. He’d seen them for himself.
Remember how Armistice Day came to be. I told the story back in 2008. It remains a powerful, moving history for a very large part of the world, and one that deserves to be remembered everywhere.
And so, to honor not only living veterans, but also those who’ve gone before us, I offer these poems. They mean a lot to me. Sometime today I’ll hoist a glass to their memories. As I grow older, I wonder how it will be when I cross over. Will some of them be there to meet me?