For anyone familiar with John McCrae's famous poem, it is difficult to pass by Naperville's "Healing Field of Honor" or see pictures of its 2,012 American flags snapping in the wind in neat rows and not think back to Europe circa 1914.
"In Flanders Fields the poppies grow/between the crosses, row on row./That mark our place ..."
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Americans were not involved in the First Battle of Flanders nearly a century ago, of course, but we would eventually become sucked into the vortex of the terrible "War to End All Wars" of which it was so great a part. And McCrae's haunting lines -- like the Nov. 11, 1918, conclusion of World War I itself that formed the basis for the Veterans Day commemorations we'll hold throughout the suburbs today -- have proved expansive enough to reach beyond a simple memorial to soldiers who died defending the British Empire in Belgium. Today, they also reach out to embrace those flags in the Naperville display, which do not so much mark the place of honor for veterans as ensure it.
Likewise at scores of events throughout the suburbs this long holiday weekend, among them:
• The American Legion ceremony in Gurnee;
• The concert planned Monday in St. Charles;
• A band performance and ceremony today in Naperville;
• The veterans memorial dedication in Hanover Park, the groundbreaking for a memorial in Elgin; the breakfast in Arlington Heights on Saturday;
• And the ceremony at the West Aurora High School gymnasium on Friday, where remembrance stung with intense personal poignancy as the school paid tribute to alumnus Army Spc. Christopher Patterson, who died in Afghanistan last January.
The promise in the end of World War I, as we know all too well by now, was embarrassing in its innocence. War and its rumors persist and flourish. Now, the life of 20-year-old Spc. Patterson stretches across generations to link with World War II veteran George Hogrewe of Hinsdale, photographed by the Daily Herald's Daniel White last week as, cane in hand, he stepped among those Naperville flags to leave memorials of his own.
McCrae, too, spoke across generations, warning that if later eras "break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep." And to our credit, we continue, so far, striving to keep that faith. Simple and inadequate as the effort is, we continue to remember, honor and say thanks. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we still remember and honor the sacrifices so many veterans have made to protect our freedoms.
And we reflect on the markers that hold their place in our lives and in our hearts.
"I do feel there are soldiers next to the flags," Anna Zimmerman of Naperville's Healing Field said last week. "I do feel they're here with us."
As we, hopefully, are there with them.