This Memorial Day 2014 brings the world to the precipice of the Centurion Anniversary of The Great War or World War I as others know it. Above, the Belgian color guard, on May 25, 2014, prepares to perform the 21 gun salute in honor of the fallen American soldiers who are buried at Flanders Field. A large crowd of Belgians, Americans, Frenchmen, and others joined in the Memorial Day service.
Scattered among the headstones shaped in the form of Crosses or the Star of David, were 21 markers with the inscription, “Here Rests in Honored Glory A Comrade in Arms Known But To God”…Here in Belgium even the Unknown soldier is never forgotten. Each year a group of students who do not speak English learn the American National Anthem in school and sing it at the ceremonies. In Belgium, they teach their very young that this is Hallowed Ground and that the price for freedom is very high indeed.
For farmers around Belgium and indeed many countries in Europe, they are reminded of the conflicts of WWI and WWII each year as they prepare to undertake what is called “The Iron Harvest”. In 2013, farmers uncovered over 100 tons of munitions, barbed wire, and other relics of the wars. The Great War even claimed the lives of two men this year in Ypres, Belgium…nearly 100 years since the war began. The men were killed when they accidentally set off unexploded ordinance while working on a construction site.
A young Belgian girl of 8 years old, Maite Roel, was seriously injured when a log on the campfire she sat around turned out to be an unexploded shell from WWI. She lost her left leg and now qualifies for benefits as an official victim of The Great War. Her injury was sustained in 1991, 73 years after the war ended and the casualties continue…
As Americans begin their holiday celebrations this Memorial Day, many have no such reminders as found here in Europe. Some Americans mistake Memorial Day as a time to thank a veteran or an active duty service member. Failing to understand that Memorial Day was not declared to remember the living but rather to honor the dead. The origins of Memorial Day are disputed by over a dozen different U.S. cities…all claiming it began with their town. What cannot be denied is that in America, Memorial Day or Decoration Day was started to honor the fallen from the Civil War.
As should be fitting on this occasion, here are the words of our President on November 19, 1863:
The Gettysburg Address:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”-Abraham Lincoln