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Warren Gerds/Extra! Funny, the ripple effect of a poem

“In Flanders Fields” is a reminder of World War I, now 100 years later.

PHOTO: Poppy wreaths abound at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO, CANADA (WFRV) – Here I stand, reading a poem again. The poem is on a piece of paper propped up in a simple display in the Niagara Historical Society Museum. The display is a part of an exhibition, a reminder that 2014 is 100 years after the start of World War I.

A teacher once swept me into the words. I’ve bumped into the poem a number of times since then.

A fabric poppy in the display reminds me of the times that veterans greeted me at a doorway to buy a poppy to wear. I’d wind the wire stem around a handle of my gym bag and keep it there until the wire wore weak and the poppy fell off. Funny, the ripple effect of a poem.

Here I stand, reading a poem again, this time in another country.

The display in the museum makes me realize the origin of the poppy remembrance. As much as U.S. veterans embrace the symbolism of the poppy, the poem was written by a Canadian soldier, and it was nations of the British Commonwealth that gave impetus to Remembrance Day. “Poppy Day” is generally observed on November 11, but the U.S. Memorial Day – today, Monday, May 26 – also is a good time to consider the poem.

In Flanders Fields

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.

Stand again, in another country. Belgium. Near Ypres, in the Flanders region. Human carnage is all around. If you’re Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea, you’ve been part of 17 days and nights of battle and “the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed…” Your friend, Alexis Helmer, has been killed. Red poppies quickly grow over Alexis Helmer’s grave, and that of tens of thousands of others in Flanders fields.  

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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