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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.
 — John McCrae

Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon, wrote this poem on May 3, 1915, after a friend was killed in battle.
It provides an unforgettable mixture of sadness, regret and patriotism, that, deserves the decades of recognition is has received, because it well reflects the brutal reality of war.
McCrae saw the poem published in December, 1915, in Punch, a popular British magazine.
And he lived long enough to see it used to help bring more young men into that horrible war.
It would be interesting to know what McCrae thought about that, but he didn’t get to reflect after the war.
McCrae died of pneumonia on Jan. 28, 1918 — not a “hero’s death,” as was the case for so many in World War I.
He joined the 9,911,000 estimated military dead from that war.
It’s estimated, because the war was so horrific, it concluded with 7,750,000 military “missing.”
Untold numbers of soldiers in and along the trenches were killed by machine guns, artillery and gas and then just incorporated into the no-man’s land of artillery craters, or were, literally, entombed during the construction of trenches that stretched for miles.
We will never know, in this life at least, the total losses, and we can’t even guess at the civilian dead from battles, plagues and famine.
So McCrae didn’t live to know that the war that followed the “War to End All Wars” would kill even more.
Statisticians don’t even try to count all those dead. They suggest there were more than 22 million military and more than 40 million civilian dead in World War II.
And how many more have been killed in the “small wars” that have continued, unabated, since the end of World War II? There is not even a guess.
The point McCrae was trying to make is summed up by the last words of the captain’s character in the motion picture, “Saving Private Ryan.”  The fictional captain, as he’s dying, tells the Pvt. Ryan, who is about to go home to his family — “Earn This!”
It may well be that, if McCrae could speak to us from the grave, he would neither count the cost of that war, nor beat the patriotic drum.
Instead he might admonish us, who are still alive, to make a better world — to use the time and the gifts that have been provided to us through so much suffering, military and civilian — to improve this place where we live.
It is a challenge that we remember on Memorial Day.
It is a challenge that we MUST take up every other day of every year, as well.
We should be chilled to even consider abandoning this great trust.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— Chuck Smith