It’s been more than 240 years since the first Americans “officially” fighting in military operations for this nation fell on our behalf at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The number of those who have fallen between then and today so that you remain free to read these words is too staggering to contemplate, but we gather together once again to honor their sacrifice. Many of you have your own stories of family members and friends who answered the call to service and gave all. While my father was lucky enough to return from World War II on his feet, others in our family through various wars did not. My dad’s American Legion post was full of pictures and stories his friends who paid the ultimate price. As long as America stands, their sacrifice shall not have been in vain.
There’s one story today I would share which involves both those who gave their lives for the nation and those who bled on our account but survived. It’s a stirring project undertaken by one group in Vermont seeking to return 100 Purple Hearts and Lady Columbia Wound Certificates (the predecessor to the Purple Heart in World War I) to the families of the recipients. (Associated Press)
A group that seeks to reunite lost Purple Hearts with service members or their descendants is embarking on an ambitious project: to return 100 such medals or certificates earned in World War I before the 100th anniversary next April of the United States’ entry into the conflict.
Zachariah Fike, of the Vermont-based Purple Hearts Reunited, began the project after noticing he had in his collection of memorabilia a total of exactly 100 Purple Hearts or equivalent lithographs awarded for injuries or deaths from the Great War.
“You’re honoring fallen heroes,” said Fike, a Vermont National Guard captain wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. “These are our forefathers; these are the guys that have shed their blood or sacrificed their lives for us. Any opportunity to bring light to that is always a good thing.”
The lithographs, known as a Lady Columbia Wound Certificate and showing a toga-wearing woman knighting an infantry soldier on bended knee, were what World War I military members wounded or killed while serving were awarded before the Purple Heart came into being in 1932. World War I service members who already had a lithograph became eligible for a Purple Heart at that time.
Since some of the awards were given posthumously, the story involves both those who fell in battle, being honored today, and others who survived their wounds.
I’ll close this brief remembrance once again with one of the classic pieces of poetry which sets the mood for this occasion. It’s In Flanders Fields by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel 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.