Veterans' Day

Next Wednesday is Veterans’ Day here in the U.S. In Canada and the United Kingdom the day is known as Remembrance Day. Before that, it was Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I.

When I was a child, I remember the Veterans of Foreign Wars selling artificial poppies to commemorate the day. The poppies were small, to be worn on the lapel or like a brooch, as a symbol of remembrance for the service – and sacrifice – of our military.

The tradition of using poppies for this was started by Moina Michael, a young woman from Georgia, when she read the poem In Flanders Field. The poem was written by Canadian Colonel John McCrae in 1915 to memorialize his fellow soldiers who had died in World War I. The war was to take McCrae’s life as well in 1918.

“In Flanders Field the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row…”

Moina Michael hit upon the idea of selling silk poppies to raise money for disabled veterans and their families. It’s ironic that the country where wearing the poppy started has now all but forgotten that small gesture. I have a poppy that I wear every year, sent to me by a friend in Canada. In that country the poppy is still a part of Remembrance Day, just as it is in the U.K. However, no one seems to know what it is or why I’m wearing it. I wish we could bring back the poppy for Veterans’ Day.

Because Veterans’ Day began as a commemoration of WWI, I thought I’d check to see what we have in the way of movies about that war. And we do have some good ones.

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, this classic movie tells the story of an idealistic young German soldier and the sobering reality of war. Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Lew Ayres stars in one of his best roles.
  • Hell’s Angels (1930) – Produced by Howard Hughes, this early sound movie about brothers in the RAF features exciting aerial battles. Jean Harlow stars in one of her first major roles.
  • A Farewell to Arms (1932) – Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes star in this version of the Ernest Hemingway novel. A story of love found and tested in a time of war.
  • The Dawn Patrol (1938) – Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and David Niven star in another story of flyers in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain.
  • Sergeant York (1941) – A personal favorite of mine for its depiction of mountain people as intelligent and informed. Gary Cooper won his first Oscar as Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history. Joan Leslie co-stars as Gracie, Alvin’s fiancée. This movie also features a beautiful, dignified performance from Margaret Wycherly as York’s mother.

As Veterans’ Day approaches, even if you’re just watching a movie, take a moment to remember what the day is really about.


Several fairly recent films

Several fairly recent films have paid tribute to the soldiers of World War I. The first three that come to mind are: "All the King's Men," a 1999 TV movie about the fate of the King George's Sandringham Company during the Gallipoli campaign, was shown on Masterpiece Theatre and is available at the library on DVD. The 1998 "Regeneration" (also known as "Behind the Lines") is based on the Pat Barker novel of the same name and concerns a compassionate doctor (Jonathan Pryce) who attempts to treat what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. The film's unflinching depiction of wartime horror and the less enlightened treatments visited upon shell-shocked soldiers make for intense viewing. "A Very Long Engagement" (2004) is hard to classify: Is it a love story? A war epic? A mystery? It is all that and more as Mathilde (the luminous Audrey Tautou) sets out to learn the fate of her fiance, last seen heading into No Man's Land with several other French soldiers. This is a truly stunning film, rich with a variety of images -- some beautiful, others disturbing -- and leavened by touches of humor. The impressive international cast boasts at least two Oscar winners.

I'm very intrigued by the

I'm very intrigued by the films you've listed, especially All the King's Men. I'd never heard of this part of military history. I think I'll have to see that, as well as A Very Long Engagement. I must keep an eye out for Regeneration. Your comments also reminded me of the heartbreaking My Boy Jack, based on Rudyard Kipling's account of his son's fate during World War I. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Jack Kipling, with David Haig and Kim Cattrall as Kipling and his wife Caroline.

Thanks for your recommendations!