Remember our heroes during celebrations

Walk through a military cemetery and you cannot help but be struck by the similarity of the gravestones that identify the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who rest there after a life cut short in the service of America.

That must have been on the mind of Canadian medical officer John McCrae when he wrote the haunting lines of his poem "In Flanders Fields."

He wrote, "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row, that mark our place."

Lt. Col. McCrae captured that final equality that soldiers share when they are placed in ground hallowed by blood and sacrifice.

Men, women, Christians, Jews, black, white and so on, lie side by side there, asking nothing in return for their sacrifice, but perhaps hoping to be remembered by their countrymen.

Today, Memorial Day, was set aside for just that. It is wonderful to have among us those veterans who saw the horror of war but returned to us safely, and they should always have our gratitude. And God bless those who have suffered terrible wounds in war, physical and psychological, some of which last a lifetime.

But today is for those who gave what President Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" - their lives - so that we can breathe free.

The great American poet Carl Sandburg wrote of the eternal sadness that is the legacy of warfare in his poem "Grass," which spoke to the repeated tragedy of Americans lost in war.

"Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo," he wrote, "Shovel them under and let me work - I am the grass; I cover all."

And, he penned, "pile them high at Gettysburg and pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work.

"Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now?

"I am the grass. Let me work."

And, as poignant as the words of McCrae and Sandburg are, it should be noted that both wrote their tributes when World War I was thought to be "The war to end all wars."

Since then, as we are all painfully aware, hundreds of thousands of American men and women have made that ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of the world's land and seas.

The Confederate widows who started the annual practice of honoring our war dead originally called it "Decoration Day."

And still today, flags and flowers can be seen being placed on the graves of our heroes.

In the midst of our backyard barbecues and beach parties, let's not forget that our gifts didn't come free.

I pray that God has granted them all eternal rest, and that He protect those still in harm's way until they are home with us, safe and sound.

Jim Bishop resides in Victoria and was executive editor at the Victoria Advocate before he retired.