Not many young people know about WWI. To them, it’s simply the war that came before the cool” war—WWII.
My history curriculum doesn’t reach to WWI but I feel that the War to End All Wars—which in the US we remember (or not) with Veteran’s Day is too important not to talk about.
Many years ago, I lived in Canada and in England during November (obviously different Novembers). I was utterly impressed with the way the citizens of these nations each came together during Remembrance Day in solemn, respect. In Canada everyone wore a red poppy on their chest.
Why a poppy? Because the fields in Flanders (Belgium today) were so poisoned by cordite (used in barrage shells) that nothing would grow there, except for wild red poppies. Also, as the war dragged on for those embittered, devastating years, in the battlefields and no man’s land—the place between the lines where the un-rescued wounded would die and those unreached bodies rotted—the poppies rose as silent sentinels.
In Canada the sale of these poppies helped wounded veteran programs. I still have mine original poppy.
I was thrilled when I learned that our own Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (the VFW) also have a similar program. It’s called the Buddy Poppy program. People donate money and receive a poppy in return.
Well, at least in my state, it’s not very wide spread.
As a teacher, I wanted to give my students something they could have, touch, wear, that would connect them to the sacrifices made not only in WWI but throughout our history. Something that would make them think.
I decided on the Buddy Poppies. But being a teacher, who puts a great deal of personal income into making my classes better, I didn’t have extra money to donate to this worthy cause. However, I asked our local post if they would donate those poppies to my students.
Each year they have.
This year, challenged by other circumstances—worthy programs my school is having us participate in, but time stealing nonetheless—I had to look at my curriculum and decide where I might trim things in order to fit all the required information in.
My unhappy answer? Our discussion on Veteran’s Day.
Teachers ask themselves if they make a difference. Does what they do matter? Are all the hours, all the thought, all the effort worth it?
Last week, I had my answer.
A student I had a couple of years ago, stopped by. “Mrs. Olds,” he said, “this last summer, I went to France and I thought of you.” He put out his hand and opened it. Inside, lay a small, delicate pin. A poppy. “I know how much those poppies mean to you and when I saw this, I knew I just had to bring it to you.”
I nearly teared up right then surrounded by the chaos of hundreds of Junior High students rushing home.
Thank goodness my local VFW post came through at the last minute for me. Whatever else happens, our discussion on Veteran’s Day is just too important.
So, thank you. Thank you all you men and women. Thank you for leaving your homes, your friends, your families. Thank you for believing that this country and that freedom are too important to walk away and to let someone else worry about it. And rest, those who did not make it home. Rest and know, that we have not forgotten. And as long as it is my watch, I will teach my students to remember.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
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.