This is our first Veteran’s Day in seven years without Anne Davis Hyatt in our lives. Anne, who slipped from us in January at 95, had become our deep connector to the day, taking up the reins from Mom, who had always held the day close in her heart & instilled in me a love of the 11th day of the 11th month & an appreciation of those who served.
When I was in high school, there was a place of honor with photos of alumni who’d given their last full measure in the two world wars & Vietnam. Long before learning he was Anne’s only brother, I knew that Justin Davis had died in World War II. While I must have seen a picture of the young Canadian who was Anne’s first love, killed in the early days of fighting, I don’t recall it. But I can still see Justin’s photo in my mind – his nephew, Anne’s second son, is a classmate of mine & his namesake.
One of the greatest blessings of working with older friends is getting to see their world, their age & era through their eyes. In listening to Anne recall the war years, it felt at times like we were there. Her fears when Bill went into the service almost as soon as war was declared, receiving the news of his death, her gratitude that his mother came down from Canada to share the grief of his passing with the young woman she’d expected to welcome into her family, her retreat to the South (Atlanta?) to escape all the memories of him that crowded in back home, returning after news of Justin’s death, the note her parents received from the soldier who’d been driving the jeep which overturned & killed their only son ~and~ the tender letter they wrote in return. Anne rebuilt her devastated life – as she often said, brushing away my sympathy, “Lot’s of people lost loved ones.” – in time, falling in love with returned soldier & classmate Kent, moving forward. If not always remembering, never forgetting.
The closest I’d come to hearing such heart-wrenching personal stories were Mom’s recollections of the wars – of a shattered Aunt Dot hearing about the death of a Bryn Athyn classmate in World War I, of a scene she unintentionally witnessed between a young soldier heading to France saying his farewell to his elementary school sweetheart, the deaths in World War II of Justin & Richard Walter – his namesake, Rick Simons, was killed in Vietnam – & others.
From Mom’s stories, I had a sense of the idea of loss, but Anne’s remembering made it vivid, piercing.
Susan Branch recently wrote a posting about Remembrance Day. I found myself thinking about Anne & felt the stirring of a long ago memory of my own, as I read Susan’s description of an experience she had on a trip to England: We had just come walking back to the High Street from the Castle (staying in the Bear Hotel ~ some parts of it 900 years old, you can see it on the right), and didn’t know what was going on when we saw a crowd had gathered, families, babies, and dogs, people of all ages, clergy and soldiers too. It was 11 am on Remembrance Sunday, and the village had stopped to honor Armistice Day as they had done for 95 years, for all those who served and died in war since then ~ this quiet remembrance was happening in every small and big town in England at this same moment.
Just as Anne slipped back to her younger years, I was suddenly in a Bryn Athyn Elementary School classroom. It’s November 11, Veteran’s Day, and at the 11th hour – the time the armistice ending World War I was signed; all the students & teachers in all the classrooms rose to hold a moment of silence. At 65, I look back & think of how that scene rolled across the entire nation, as each time zone struck 11:00 a.m., rolling around the globe, a great wave of appreciation love loss starting in Australia & ending in Hawaii.
I am grateful to Mom for my early appreciation of the meaning of the day, all my love to Anne for opening my heart to its pain & sorrow.
The poem, In Flanders Field, has always spoken to me, even as a young child. It was written by a Canadian, born in Guelph Ontario, not far from where Anne’s Bill lived. John McCrae was a remarkable man – poet, author, artist, physician & soldier, serving as a surgeon with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the first time Canadians to fight as a distinctly separate unit from their British counterparts. Lieutenant Colonel McCrae’ wrote the poem, In Flanders Field, after a friend was killed.
John McCrae died near the end of the war, succumbing to pneumonia. His poem – and the tradition of wearing a red poppy on Armistice/Remembrance/Veteran’s Day – still graces our lives & fills our hearts.
In Flanders Field John McCrae
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.