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Discoveries: 'In Flanders Fields'—Moving Tribute to War Dead

The following article is presented in honor of the recently-celebrated Memorial Day, in homage to military personnel past and present. This article also serves as a reminder that an archive of historical newspapers is a nearly inexhaustible source of information as well as surprises. We sometimes find information about our personal family history—and sometimes we run across something unexpected that reminds us of the history of our common humanity.

Imagine you were searching for one of your ancestors in the Feb. 5, 1918, issue of the Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) and discovered this article:



This is a reprint of an article that first appeared in the Montreal Star, about the death of Canadian physician and poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who died of pneumonia contracted during World War I on January 28, 1918, while serving as the commander of a military hospital in Boulogne, France.

The article leads off with McCrae's most famous poem, "In Flanders Fields," a moving memorial that is often recited during Memorial Day observances in the United States and Remembrance Day in countries such as England and Canada. He wrote the poem on May 3, 1915, in honor of his fallen friend and former pupil, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died during the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem refers to the many poppies that flourished in the fields of Flanders, in Belgium, due to the ground being torn up by the many battles, as well as the disturbed earth caused by so many burials:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields, the poppies grow
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 lift it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies blow
In Flanders fields.

The Kansas City Star article ends with this lovely tribute to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, first published by the Toronto Globe:



It is especially poignant when the tribute asserts his "imperishable lines...will be recited around the firesides of Canada as long as the memory of these inspiring days remains green." The lines of his famous poem are still recited today, and the memory of his and countless others' great sacrifice is kept alive by our Memorial Day observances.

In closing, take a moment to click on the following link and watch this video, provided by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It shows the final resting place of nearly 370 American war dead, buried in Flanders Field American Cemetery & Memorial, the only American WWI cemetery in Belgium:
http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ff.php