The last Monday of May every year has been recognized as a day to memorialize, think about, honor, and otherwise never forget the sacrifices made by those who have died and did not make it home from the battlefields of war.
In Flanders Fields, one of history’s most famous wartime poems, written in 1915 during the First World War by Canadian officer and surgeon John McCrae. It helped popularize the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
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.
I LOVED being married to my combat husband who HATED most formalities, ceremonies, and repetitious acts that many celebrated it seemed more out of being expected to rather than a true heartfelt exuberance.
Loved and appreciated by many for his brutally honest and sincere way of sharing his heart, you most definitely knew where you stood when talking with him. Pondering how he shied away from parades and gatherings that seemed only momentary and fleeting, I wish to challenge those of you, who read these words, and this poem, to take your Memorial Day to a higher level.
In the last few lines of this poem, the author clearly shares that those who have survived have a duty and an obligation to hold freedom’s torch high and that if you don’t, those who paid the ultimate price will never sleep.
To my shock and amazement, more than 30 years after leaving Vietnam, “Survivors Guilt,” still tormented my dear husband. I HAD NEVER KNOWN, that on top of the screams at night, the revulsion at authority, and the utter disdain for believing he could ever trust anyone again, he felt guilty that he survived. I have always seen a half glass of water as half full, not half empty, and I could not comprehend that after being given the gift of surviving the trauma of being a combat soldier, that guilt was yet another misguided reality, that was carried.
In my world, it was so very clear to me, that if you survived some horrible trauma, you most obviously had more to give in this life and should be celebrating your time was not up. YES, I have been traumatized and overcame, the pain and stigma of numerous events including rape and abortions. So I know what I am talking about.
So this higher level I am challenging you to take this Memorial Day, if you still carry guilt in your suitcase, or any other debilitating mental torment is to remember, that you have been allowed the gift of surviving because you are important, necessary, and needed. There is no shame in getting stuck, at times in life. Shock is a wonderful place, where you can be numb, embrace denial, check out mentally, or otherwise, put one foot in front of the other, and keep going rather than checking out.
But I challenge you to consider you are here for so very much more. So what is the best way to honor and memorialize those who had such short lives? To live life to the fullest, with no apologies, and make sure that their sacrifices counted. Far past waving at people in parades and having a backyard BBQ, each moment you live–do so with intentionality, and hope. Making this world a better place is what I would call a meaningful living memorial.
image credit: author
In 2016, Dennis and I rode to the Vietnam Wall, from California, a trip he had promised to make, in his heart many years ago. It was not what we expected. The memorial to the souls was not depressing, nor did it enhance the feelings of guilt that my husband learned to let go of, by living life to the fullest. After approaching the wall, and resting his hand on a few of the names, he spent several moments pondering the reality that they were in a better place. The truth that he had made it back, married, fathered three sons, and done his best to impact the world for good, actually brought a smile and peace he had not expected.
Turning he smiled, saying, “I let them know again, how much I appreciate them, and life. I kept my word, and I told them I’ll see you before long.”
It was a peace-filled, quiet morning with very few, at “The Wall”, and everything seemed as it should be.
So this memorial day, think of the famous words, of the poem, written after World War I, to cheer on those of you, who are still here and have survived to this moment. You are the heroes that know it can be harder to keep living than to leave. Let your Memorial Day impact, last all year long. And each time you give love to a thirsty soul, share your table with someone worse off than you or hold a loved one.
You are the living memorials that matter.
For 43 years, Dennis and Diana Nickell shared their lives, passion, and hearts. Dennis, a Vietnam Combat Veteran who dealt daily with the aftermath of his 14 months in-country, spent his later years reaching out to Veterans, their loved ones and tried to help share why you should never give up. Sept, 12th, 2021 Dennis joined his brothers in arms in heaven, who never had the chance to have the life he fought for daily, and his wife Diana still carries on the mission of educating, enlightening, and encouraging those who have paid such a heavy price for freedom.
Dedicated to ALL, first responders, and heroes, Diana has found peace in the wealth of her family and her faith. YouTube series Surviving Vietnam can be accessed freely at https://www.survivevietnam.com/All rights are reserved, for created content shared about their amazing journey, including original poetry by Diana. Feel free to contact Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise.