Flanders Field Memorial Day Ceremony

For US Memorial Day, Belgium holds several ceremonies in conjunction with AMVETS to honor the American soldiers who fought and/or died here during both World Wars - especially those who are buried in one of the 3 US military cemeteries in Belgium.  Belgians take time each and every year since 1919 to remember what the Americans have done for them over the years.  The Boy Scouts were invited to help with the ceremony at Flanders Fields - a cemetery on the grounds of some fierce fighting during WWI -  and they also laid a wreath during the ceremony in honor of the fallen.  Alex was one of 3 boys from his troop to attend the ceremony - Sonya and Amanda went with him.  It was a somber day with many speeches given in tribute to the Americans and the sacrifice they made for the Belgians.  We heard from such people as the US Ambassador to Belgium, some high ranking military officials, and the mayor of the town of Waregem (which is where this cemetery is located).  We also got to witness a flyover by the US Air Force - it was the missing man formation.  Wreaths were laid at the cemetery by many organizations (Boy Scouts, the US, Waregem, American Women's Club, Amero-Belgio Club, etc..).  On this particular day in this particular ceremony, the AMVETS dedicated a carillon to this cemetery so that all can think of freedom when they hear the bells play - I didn't know that the AMVETS do this at many cemeteries around the world on a regular basis, but they do!  This was the 19th carillon placed on non-US soil to honor the American fallen.  The tall building you see in the pictures is not actually the carillon - it is a chapel in the center of the cemetery.  The carillon is located in a low building behind the scenes.

The job of the Scouts was to help people find their seats, so Amanda and Alex each got a plan and set out to help people.  One lady came up to Amanda and started telling her why she had come to the ceremony on this day - in French!  Amanda knows enough to tell us that this woman and her brother had helped with the resistance and that her brother had been killed during the war.  Amanda wishes she had been able to understand more of the story - she thinks it could have been very interesting!

A student from Brussels American School (the Dept. of Defense school here) came to recite this famous poem written here by a soldier during WWI - today while weeding our flower beds I found a lone poppy growing and have saved it to show the kids (and now I know why the veterans collecting donations for Memorial Day always give out little poppies!) -

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

A special event that has happened every year since 1923 involves the school children of Waregem.  Each and every year, the children are taught the US National Anthem (in English of course) and they come to the ceremony to sing it for all those present.  The mayor told us in his speech that 30 years ago he had been one of the children sitting there waiting to sing - in those days he said they were not yet teaching English here and he learned the sounds to come and sing and be given a Coca-Cola.  He went on to tell us that now he understands the importance of having the children learn the song and come to sing it so they will always remember what the US has done for Belgium!  This is certainly one place in the world that has not forgotten what others have done for them!