Then World War II came, and we had peace no more. Armistice Day gave way, to be known as Veterans’ Day. And we honored those who fought for our nation and its security.
As it was the first flower, and in some places the only flower, to bloom in the bloody battlefields of Europe, a tradition began after the 1918 Armistice of wearing a red poppy to honor those who fought bravely for their nations and the security thereof. Some still honor the warriors – from all wars – by wearing the Red Poppy.
Most, however, do not.
They have no clue what the Red Poppy means. They see the day as a holiday – freedom from work or school.
War is so removed from our everyday lives. It’s something that happens “over there”, not here. Here, we have a day of leisure and relaxation. Have a drink, it’s not like you’re going to be drafted and sent off to defend your country.
On this day, I’ll be wearing the Red Poppy in honor of those who did go off and defend our country, because war is not as removed our lives as one might think.
On this day, I’ll be thinking about the student who was called back to duty and shipped out to Afghanistan in the days after September 11, 2001. I’ll be thinking of the students who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t find a way of fitting their class schedule around defending the local airport as part of the National Guard. I’ll be thinking of the students who had to put their education on hold when they were deployed to Iraq. I’ll be thinking of them because a handful of them were in my classes.
There was the student who came to class in fatigues and said that if his phone went off, he’d have to leave because they were on alert after 9/11. Twenty minutes into the lecture, his commanding officer called. I gave him an incomplete and was pleased that he survived to finish the course when his battalion returned from Afghanistan.
There were the two National Guard students in my class who had to drop all their courses because they were required to put in 50+ hours a week defending the Santa Barbara airport from terrorists. They couldn’t attend class, and didn’t have time to study; they had to drop out because no one could tell them how long their guard duty would last. Thankfully, the silliness of guarding the SB airport didn’t last as long as some had thought – if you’ve ever been through SBA, you’d understand why it wouldn’t be high on the Al Qaeda list of targets – and the student warriors were able to return to school.
Only to have to leave it again when the National Guard was called up and shipped to Iraq, along with the recently graduated Army ROTC students. One of whom I knew wanted to go on to law school so that he could be come military lawyer. That would have to wait, the war in Iraq had begun.
It is to them, when I have a drink this evening, I toast. It is for them, and the thousands like them who will not be having a simple day of leisure, that on this day I wear the Red Poppy.
What did you do to honor them on Veterans’ Day?