Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Poppy for George

George Rutherfurd on his way to France, January 1918

As I walked around San Francisco today, I saw many people wearing small, red poppies clipped to their clothing. The poppies were being handed out to mark Veterans Day (and Remembrance Day, celebrated by those in the British Commonwealth).  I did not know where the tradition of using a poppy to commemorate veterans originated, so I turned to my friend Google and was quickly educated. The poppies are a reference to the flowers that bloomed on the battlefields of France during World War I. They are mentioned specifically in this poem about the battlefields of Flanders written by John McCrae in 1915.
In Flanders Fields
"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 thought immediately of my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.  He was in France during World War I, serving with the 411th Telegraph Battalion.  Having been a telephone company employee in Los Angeles prior to the war, he was assigned to the 411th and tasked with laying telegraph lines ahead of advancing troops in France. A former member of this battalion, C.H. Moore, later wrote a book entitled, "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion 1917-1919: Here and Over There." I am privileged to own an original copy and will be transcribing its contents and talking in depth about George's military career in later posts.

George Rutherfurd is third from the right in this photo.

In 2004, I traveled with my parents and my Grandma (George's only child) to France, and we drove through the Champagne-Ardenne region of northeastern France, out to the Belgian border, seeing some of the areas where George had been during the war. If you have never been to this part of France, it is sobering. You can feel the weight of history here. One military cemetery after another stretches as far as the eye can see. The town of Verdun, site of a major battle and enormous loss of life during the first World War, has so many war memorials that I lost count of them. In places, the ground is still pocked and misshapen, whether from bombs or trenches I couldn't be sure. To be able to see this landscape with my own eyes inspired me to come home and learn more about George and the war he fought in.

On Veterans Day, I wear a poppy for George, and for all our veterans.  May we remember their service and their sacrifice.  May we also pass their stories down to our children, so they are never forgotten.

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