A moment of silence

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
A cold wind swept across the grounds as leaves of red, yellow and orange blew from trees before gently descending on the people gathered in solemn respect at Cambridge American Cemetery, United Kingdom, Nov. 11.

They stood in silent reverence upon the hallowed ground that served as the final resting place for 3,812 American Service members.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Forrest Booker, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron operations superintendent, as his voice broke the silence. "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."

As Booker read the words penned by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Maj. John McCrae, nearly a century ago, Service members and civilians who attended this Veterans Day ceremony began shifting their gaze past the podium he stood behind. One by one they focused their attention on the names of fallen brothers and sisters, forever immortalized into the stone wall.

"We gather today to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those memorialized here," said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, 3rd Air Force commander. "Those buried here are remembered in the United States as members of the "Greatest Generation," who ensured freedom's survival through the darkest moments of history."

First proclaimed in 1919 as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson, Veterans Day is also shared in the United Kingdom as Remembrance Day. Initially, it marked the official end of hostilities during World War I; and has since evolved into a time when all Service members are honored for their devotion and sacrifice.

"We are the dead," Booker continued. "Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields."

Now a part of modern-day Belgium, Flanders was the site of some of the most gruesome battles on the Western Front, during World War I. It became the inspiration for the poem Booker read, as well as the brilliant red poppies worn by many who attended the ceremony - including Group Captain Frank Clifford, Group Captain U.S. Visiting Forces.

"The willingness of our uniformed personnel to continue to serve their country is a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of those who went before them," Clifford said. "When we look at our respective countries at the relative peace and prosperity we enjoy today, this is in no small part due to the bravery of the men and women who were willing to give their lives to protect our way of life."

As the trees swayed and the leaves bristled in the wind, Clifford's words echoed among the tombstones that served as unmoving guardians over fallen heroes; men and women who put aside their fears and personal desires to defend something greater than themselves.

"Take up our quarrel with the foe," Booker said. "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."