Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Flanders Fields The Poppies Blow...

Poppy Field by John Beniston (2002)
Tomorrow is Armistice Day. Or, as it’s called in Canada and Great Britain, Remembrance Day.

 Or, if you’re too young to actually remember why it’s called either (and how it got to be a special day in the first place), it’s simply Veterans Day.

The post office and the banks will be closed. Your newspaper and television ads will try to woo you over to the belief that it’s a national day of sales, with extra-special deals for veterans.

Don’t believe it.  There’s more to the day than that.

If you don’t know the actual history of the day, it’s time to research it.  If you don’t know the poem that Canadian physician, poet, artist and instructor at McGill University’s Medical School, Lt. Col. John Alexander McCrae wrote in 1915, it’s time to learn it.  Here’s the link, at the Arlington National Cemetery website

The poem first appeared in print in the English periodical Punch on 8 December 1915. I committed the poem to memory when I was in the eighth grade. To this day, I can recite all fifteen lines of it, just as McCrae wrote it, probably in May of 1915.  Less than three years after he penned those lines, on 28 January 1918, McCrae, then the commandant of the McGill-supported Number 3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne, France, died of pneumonia.  The “war to end all wars” still raged. McCrae was buried in Wimereux Cemetery in France, far from his birthplace in Guelph, Ontario.

Nonetheless, no matter what you call the day tomorrow, and no matter how you feel about sending young men and women off to far away places to fight and risk their lives in the name of [fill in the blank here], please take the time at eleven o’clock on this eleventh day of the eleventh month, to remember them.

Do not break faith.

For those of us who are genealogists/ family historians, our veterans’ service records are sources of information that are of inestimable value.  The role of the National Archives and Records Administration in their continued preservation cannot be underestimated.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, the National Archives has released a three-minute “behind the scenes” video showing exactly what happens when a veteran requests his/her service record from the National Archives in National  Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

In this video, you can see how the records are stored at the Military Personnel Records Center and how requests are processed. The footage of the 1973 fire in the NPRC - St. Louis that destroyed millions of records and the painstaking work that goes into the restoration of burned but still-salvageable military service records are also part of the video.  It’s on YouTube and you can watch it here.

Since it’s part of NARA’s “Inside The Vault” short video series, you can also find links to similar “behind the scenes” NARA videos on this page, on the right-hand side.

If you want to read today’s NARA press release on this Veterans Day video, here’s the link.

So, when tomorrow rolls around, remember to take time to remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment