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On Veterans Day, We Pause To Read 'In Flanders Fields,' Written in 1915

People cheer veterans in the nation's largest Veterans Day parade, in New York City Wednesday.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
People cheer veterans in the nation's largest Veterans Day parade, in New York City Wednesday.

It's Veterans Day in the U.S. and Armistice Day in much of Europe, a holiday that has its roots in the end of World War I.

President Obama visited Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, where Marines in dress uniform lined the road leading to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Obama placed a wreath at the tomb to honor America's fallen veterans, before moving to an amphitheater for a ceremony that included honor guards from America's wars.

The president said:

"On these sacred grounds, where generations of heroes have come to rest, we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. And today, we gather once more to salute every patriot who has ever proudly worn the uniform of the United States of America."

With the U.S. marking 70 years since the end of World War II, Obama recognized the veterans who attended the Arlington ceremony, singling out Army Lt. Col. Luta C. McGrath, who at 108 is the oldest known female veteran of World War II.

In his speech at the cemetery, the president also urged employers to hire veterans, who are now returning home at a rate of 200,000 a year.

Here's a roundup of more ways the day is being observed:

-- One hundred years after it was written, the poem "In Flanders Fields" is being read in many countries Wednesday — particularly in Canada, where its author, Lt. Col. John McCrae, served in the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae was 41 when he wrote the poem, "after the death of a friend in the bloody second battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915," the CBC reports. Here's the poem:

"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."

-- In addition to holding parades and flag ceremonies, many American homes and public buildings are sporting green light bulbs today. It's part of an outreach effort backed by Wal-Mart; more than 3 million people have clicked on the campaign's Support button.

-- In Toms River, N.J., the family of Army Maj. Anthony Sordil, a World War II veteran who won the nation's third-highest military honor, now has his Silver Star and other medals, after another veteran found them at a flea market. As Stars and Stripes reports, the medals changed hands Tuesday, after the veteran contacted Sordil's family through the group Purple Hearts Reunited.

-- In France, where much of World War I was fought, "President Francois Hollande laid a flower on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a ceremony under Paris' Arc de Triomphe," NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports. Eleanor adds, "The muddy trenches of the Western Front have left a still-visible scar over much of the French countryside. Some French towns were obliterated and permanently wiped from the map during what was known as 'the war to end all wars.' "

-- On this Veterans Day, the White House is also celebrating the news from Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe says his state is the first in the nation to end homelessness among veterans. The Obama administration says several cities — Las Vegas and Syracuse among them — have also ended veterans' homelessness.

-- Here at NPR, you can also read about how heroic WWI veteran Sgt. Alvin York built a school in his hometown, and on today's Diane Rehm Show, two veterans discuss how they helped each other and their community.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.