Honoring those who served our country

Any time this week would be a very special time to visit the graves of your loved ones — especially those of the ones who served our country, wearing its uniforms here and abroad, in wartime and peacetime alike. And extra-especially, if those graves are located in any one of our numerous Jewish cemeteries.
Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day in Canada, were officially observed yesterday. Nov. 11 has been a special day for honoring our military dead since the end of the first World War. This solemn observance began in Great Britain as Armistice Day, because it was on the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that the losing nations inked the paper calling an official end to “the war to end all wars.” (Oh, how little we as a people knew then…)
This observance was initially called Poppy Day, a tribute to the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by a Canadian physician, Lt. Col. John McCrae. World War I produced a number of memorable poems, but this is by far the best-known, and is still studied in schools and recited to this day: “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…” Because of it, the blood-red poppy became the recognized and honored symbol of that war.
A good number of years ago, Fred and I were in England on Poppy Day. First, we saw a reverently quiet parade in a small town outside London; then we were in the main railroad terminal of London itself, where I received the small artificial poppy that I have treasured, and pinned on my collar every Nov. 11 since.
Right here, we have some folks who never forget, and urge everyone else to join them in remembering. They are the members of our local Jewish War Veterans and their JWV Auxiliary. On the Sunday before Nov. 11 every year, they visit all the cemeteries in our area where Jewish veterans are buried and place a small American flag next to the graves of each one. And for several days in advance of that, they sit outside area restaurants and other gathering places, offering small artificial poppies like mine to all who pass by, in return for donations of any amount that help fund their twice-a-year honoring.
Yes, twice a year, because Poppy Day in the fall isn’t the only day for honoring our honored dead with flag-placing. Today’s JWV members also remember their comrades-in-arms in the same way each spring. They come out again then for what has been observed in our country ever since the Civil War, on the holiday that was first called Decoration Day. That early time for families to beautify graves with flowers has long since become an American national holiday, now observed every year under the familiar name of Memorial Day.
How long do these flags remain by the graves? There’s no fixed calendar date for their removal, which depends primarily on the varying weather conditions of both seasons each year. But this-coming weekend, you can see them in all their massed glory, waving gently in the breezes, reminding us by their presence how many of our already honored family members are now doubly honored for their service to our country.
And your loved one needn’t have been a JWV member to be so honored — any Jewish American veteran of any service branch, whether in wartime or peacetime, is entitled to this twice-yearly flag memorial. If your family has such a grave that isn’t yet marked with a flag, it should be, and will be in the future, after you report it and its location (available by number from every cemetery) to the Jewish War Veterans. Just find contact information in your TJP “Guide to Jewish Life.”

Leave a Reply