Maine knows true meaning of Memorial Day

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.

One of the great things about growing up in Maine is the sense of community. When I was in middle school, the school administration would annually choose two eighth graders to participate in the town’s Memorial Day celebration. One student would read President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, while the other would recite “In Flanders Fields,” the poem written by a Canadian doctor following the Second Battle of Ypres in the First World War.

U.S. and Belgian flags are placed at graves during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Flanders Fields American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium, on Sunday May 27, 2018. The cemetery is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium and 411 American servicemen are buried or commemorated here. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

I got picked for the latter. It is a rather harrowing experience for a 13-year-old to stand in front of the assembled town and speak. That is doubly true when the words recall the memory of those who died in service to their nation.

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.

One of the great things about Maine is our proud history of military service. We have, per capita, more veterans than nearly every other state. It is especially apparent during civic holidays, with parades and ceremonies leading those who served to show their service. Yet, Memorial Day is not a day to recognize veterans. That is Veterans’ Day. Nor is it a day to recognize those presently serving. That is Armed Forces Day.

Those veterans — and others — who attend Memorial Day celebrations do so to honor others. Maine lost more than 2,500 of its children during World War II, nearly 250 in Korea, and over 300 during Vietnam. The sense of community we feel as a small state means the pain of loss cuts deeper; many of us can point to a connection we had to someone lost in uniform. And it continues today.

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.

Yet, despite the pain of the loss, one of the great things about Maine is that we continue to serve — voluntarily — at rates higher than most other states. The charge to “take up our quarrel with the foe” is not unheeded. That culture of service will imbue future Memorial Days with continued meaning. The memories of those lost remain with us. Sometimes those memories have physical embodiments, such as the Maine-based nonprofit “The Summit Project” engraving stones with the names to share and honor stories of our fallen.

At the unofficial start to summer, it is a good time to take stock of our blessings. In an incredibly toxic, highly-charged political environment, there are lessons to be learned from those who sacrificed themselves for the ideals upon which our nation was founded. And, as American considers its response to geopolitical rivals — be it Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea — Memorial Day provides a great opportunity to remember those who pray most fervently for peace are those who are prepared to go to war.

Because when America takes up arms, not everyone comes home. That is a powerful lesson to hit home at age 13, and an important one to remember. But, one of the great things about Maine is that we won’t break faith with the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.