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Alsace Ardenne Champagne Flanders Normandy World War I World War II

Few people today associate the pastoral scenery of northern France and Belgium with bloodshed and war, but for previous generations of Americans this was not the case.  Battlefields in the Flanders and along the Somme and Marne rivers were places of remembrance where comrades, brothers and sons had fallen in battle.  In the First World War, these were sites of prolonged engagement in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives in exchange for inches of ground, and so these places were emblems of the evils and vanity of war.  Next year marks one hundred years since the end of World War I.  Not surprisingly, there are no known living veterans of the Great War.    

For my grandparents, of the “Greatest Generation,” the beaches of Normandy were hallowed by acts of bravery and sacrifice that decided the outcome of the Second World War.  Today, the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer is a beautiful setting where services and observances continue to be held.  In recent years, a waning group of veterans of D-Day have carried on the tradition of an annual pilgrimage to the site. 

Though few remain who can bear witness to these bloody events on France’s northern fields, we would do well always to remember their conflicting messages.

 

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.

 

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

 

 



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