Why I Always Wear The Poppy
I wrote this post in November 2011 in response to a comment made in an email exchange with an Occupy protester in England. It is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.
“England shirt poppy thing: what diff whether these joyless overpaid spit-roasting thickoes wear a mark of Remembrance or not?”
I am one of those “spit-roasting thickoes” (sic) who wear a poppy every year and have since I was a child. I grew up in a military family and was taught to understand and respect things like honour and duty and service. My father was a big, gruff man who had seen and been scarred by terrible things in war and it coloured how he saw life. But it also gave him a tender respect for what he had in his life and I have never known anyone more committed to his family.
My father died too young and has been dead now for well over thirty years. I wear a poppy in memory of him.
When he died, a long-time friend of his, another retired military veteran came from out of town to my father’s funeral. He was a short, square-built man with a severe, close cropped hair cut and a body as hard as winter stone. He had eleven bullet wounds in his right leg from a machine gun and most of one foot gone from a grenade. I had known him since I was a child. He was tough. He was hard and he sat in my kitchen into the night alternately telling me stories about himself and my father and brushing away tears.
My life is full of memories of those men and countless others I grew up around.
I remember sitting on a Saturday morning and watching the retiring of the Black Watch from active service in the late 60’s after unification of the armed forces. The Black Watch are a proud regiment with a long and distinguished history, To a man, they stood silently in formation on parade in their dress kilt uniforms as they were reviewed for a last time. As the reviewers walked the ranks, the cameras caught the tears rolling down the faces of many of these tough men who had served in war and as peace-keepers in war torn countries. I looked over at my father and saw tears rolling down his face.
They cried for the lack of respect shown by too many. They cried for lost comrades each had known in their lives. They cried because they survived when others didn’t and they cried because despite the bond they felt to each other, no one despised more the need for soldiers than they did.
I was in my teens before I learned my father’s war history. He and I sat out on the steps of our house one night enjoying the warm summer darkness and he slowly began to talk to me about his experiences. He saw war twice, once in Europe in WWII and again in Korea in the 50’s. He told me things he had seen that I had never heard before and much later in my life would realize had tormented and shaped him. He was barely eighteen when he went to Europe for the war. He was in his forties when we talked that night,
I wear my poppy for my father and for all the men I knew growing up who served with him. Almost all of them are dead now but I wear my poppy to remember them.
I don’t worry about fools like the one quoted above. His comment, like he and his self-indulgent movement, will be quickly forgotten. They will accomplish nothing of lasting value, unlike those we honour today who died so that they could be free to protest. We have never forgotten those men and women. Their names will be read out in ceremonies and churches; in towns and cities across the country and in countries around the world. Their graves in Canada, the United States, France, The Netherlands and other countries they freed from tyranny will continue to be tended and cared for by nations that will not forget the sacrifice made so that they could be free. The men and women we remember today will not be forgotten because what they did for us will never be forgotten.
The current protest movement yells Solidarity but true solidarity comes from service to a cause greater than your own life, service provided with courage and honour. Today we remember and give thanks to the men and women who died living those words. They served and we will not forget.
I don’t wear my poppy with pride, I wear it iwith humility. I am humbled by so many who offered their lives in the hope that we would never have to make the same sacrifice.
I wear the poppy to honour them and the countless thousands who died so that we could be free..
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