Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nous n'oublions pas, Nous n'oublierons jamais

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.

When visiting the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer in Normandy this weekend, I was reminded of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. A Canadian doctor who served at the Battle of Ypres in 1915, his words resounded in my head after seeing the beautiful wildflowers, purple and pink and red, growing next to rows on rows of white marble crosses commemorating the 9,387 American men and women who lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy in the summer of 1944. The Cemetery and beaches are frighteningly beautiful. Green grass grows where artillery shells blasted holes into the earth and barbed wire fences overlook the blue waters of the English Channel even on a cold, rainy January day.

To stand in such a beautiful place with 10,000 bodies under your feet, your only response can be silence. Unfortunately, this mood was broken by chimes sounding "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The song, too forceful in its patriotism, too strong in its glorification of "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

As a French memorial on the site says, "We do not Forget, We will never Forget," but what are we remembering? We must remember their sacrifice. We must remember the innocent lives saved and the courage of American soldiers in the face of adversity, but to glorify their death in song, to sing "glory, glory hallelujah" and forget that these men and women had wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers is to forget the suffering and loss of the entire war. Is is to misremember why we fought. Why Americans died on the beaches of Normandy. That thousands of kids grew up without fathers. We must ensure those children know that their fathers died not in the glorious fight for liberty, but so they could grow up and not have to fight. The 9,387 dead were forced to miss baseball games and graduations, baptisms and weddings. Their sacrifice was huge and cannot happen again.

We do not forget and we will never forget, but let us remember what we fought for in World War II and also what we lost. We can say they fought for our freedom, but we cannot glorify them beyond recognition. They were human in life and are human in death.

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