Fourscore and eleven years ago, at this hour, the guns fell silent at the end of the war that was supposed to end all wars, forever. Regrettably, that hope did not materialize. Indeed, a far bloodier and more brutal war would erupt in Europe barely a generation later, to be followed by countless skirmishes, "police actions," and undeclared strife of all kinds.
It is traditional in much of the world to remember the day by wearing a poppy flower or a representation thereof:
Regrettably, along with tending to forget the holiday itself, that tradition also seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur in the United States. I remember in my salad days that the VFW or one of its auxiliary organizations still made and provided the poppies for Veterans Day. I can't tell you the last time I saw anyone actually offering them to people, though I was pleased to see, over the last week or so, most of the coaches and other bench staff in the National Hockey League wearing them in their buttonholes during games.
The tradition of the poppies comes from the poem "In Flanders Fields," written in 1915 by Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD, during the Second Battle of Ypres. He would die himself before the war's end, of pneumonia in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in January 1918. The poem was very nearly not published: McCrae was not satisfied with it and at one point threw it away. A fellow officer retrieved it, and it was published anonymously in Punch just about a month after the Armistice.
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.
Thanks to all veterans for their honorable service, including my father, my stepfather, whole rafts of other relatives, and three very distant, long-dead cousins who signed up to fight for this country before it even truly existed, one of whom paid the last full measure of devotion, in Lincoln's immortal words, that horrible winter at Valley Forge. You are not forgotten.