Thoughts from my husband on this Memorial Day
“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…”John McCrae
In elementary school, I remember having to memorize that poem, along with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and other historic pieces. “In Flanders Fields” was written in 1915 by a Canadian physician, John McCrae. He was emotionally moved after attending the funeral at a military cemetery in Belgium of a fellow soldier killed early in World War I. His thoughtful poem thus became famous and part of Memorial Day honors for the past 100+ years. Poppies also became associated with recognizing military war deaths. We mostly have gold-colored wild poppies in the U.S., but in Europe they are red. We get a regular reminder of the red poppies when members of the American Legion pin the small paper ones on us each year just before Memorial Day.
I remember Memorial Day being called “Decoration Day” and assisting my father at the cemetery in cleaning up graves of our family members and placing fresh flowers. The holiday has had a broader meaning to remember all our loved ones who have passed. Memorial Day was started after the Civil War but was finally clarified under Federal Law as a national holiday to “honor all military that had fought and died while serving.”
As I think of Memorial Day’s intent, I focus on my own generation and many friends from high school and fellow Marines that died in Viet Nam. But two generations earlier is the only occurrence in memory of a war death in my family. Great uncle, Joseph Maziarz, immigrated as a young man around 1912 to the U.S. from Poland, was granted U.S. citizenship and received a 320-acre homestead in North Central Montana. Joseph’s younger sister, Helen (my grandmother), travelled to the U.S. in 1914 from Poland at age 14 to join him on the Montana homestead. Joseph was working hard to scratch out a farming existence on a very dry, desolate prairie. Helen later married my grandfather, left the homestead, and moved to Great Falls. Joseph was either drafted or enlisted in the Army in 1917, locked up his farmhouse, and went off to fight in France. I had several of his letters to his sister during the war translated from Polish, and he said (which is typical) nothing about the war but only his worries about his farm and things in Montana. World War I ended on November 11, 1918, but unfortunately Joseph was killed on October 8, 1918, in the horrendous battle of Meuse-Argonne, Eastern France. When Meuse-Argonne ended after 40 days, the WW-I armistice was signed and the “war to end all wars” was over. Yet 27,000 Americans were killed in that battle, including Uncle Joseph. Yes, one battle and it is second only in U.S. history to the losses during the D-Day offensive in World War II.
I never knew my great uncle but I am both honored and sorry that he sacrificed everything for his newly adopted country. He never had the opportunity to see his sister again and make his farm in Montana a success. But the same can be said for my recent friends that died in Vietnam and never got to finish college and become husbands, fathers, and grandfathers.
I want to honor my more immediate family members that served in the military during World War II including my father, Ed Sr. (cargo loadmaster, U.S. Naval Air Transport Service, who served on Guam and Shanghai, China); his brother, Joe Mares (radar specialist, Navy ship, USS Cogswell, operating in the South Pacific); and, my mother’s younger brother, Loren Kujawa (U.S. Army, serving in the post-WWII war crime trials in Nuremberg, Germany). I also must recognize my dear younger brother, John, a veteran U.S. Coast Guard radioman who served on Coast Guard ice breakers in Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean in the 1970’s.
If my grandchildren choose to serve in the military, I will support that choice and be proud. I just pray that if they do serve, they stay safe!
Enjoy your Memorial Day!