ANZAC Day – Lest We Forget

On April 25, 1915, in the early morning, a combined expeditionary force of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers landed on the Turkish shore at Gallipoli.  They came to be known as the ANZACs.   An all-volunteer army, their goal was to crush the Turkish element of the Ottoman Empire and capture Constantinople.  Expectations were for a quick and relatively easy engagement.  They were wrong — dead wrong.  After eight months of horrific fighting in which heavy casualties were suffered by both sides, the ANZACs were evacuated.  Their heroism and sacrifice along with their brothers in France and elsewhere during the Great War is remembered every year on this date.

Over time, the day has evolved to include all veterans; living and lost, active and discharged.  Is some ways, it’s similar to a combined Veteran’s and Memorial Day in the United States.  And yet, sadly, it is very different.  These people, the people of Australia and New Zealand, are dedicated to remembering, lest they forget the price of freedom.  Perhaps it is because theirs is a younger nation, or perhaps it’s because they suffered such greater losses in proportion to their population.  Whatever the reason, for them, this is not just a manifested three day weekend.  There are no ANZAC sales.  Every April 25th, regardless of what day it falls on, rain or shine, hot or cold; they remember.  They come in droves; thousands brave the elements, like the veterans they honor.

The day begins at the time of the initial landing, 4:15AM, with predawn ceremonies attended by hundreds.  One of the most poignant is held in Turkey on the very beach, now serene, that once saw such horrors.  The people of Australia have long since made their peace with the people of Turkey, in many ways, before the war had ended.  The Turkish commander, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,  the man that would later unite Turkey and lead them to independence, sent a message to the families of the ANZACs shortly after the troops evacuated to honor their sacrifice:

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

At its conclusion, the Ode of Remembrance is read, taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Followed by a bugler sounding “The Last Post” http://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/customs/last_post.asp

I have never seen such honor bestowed upon veterans.

Later, parades are held around the county.  Unit after unit of Army, Navy and Air Corps march down the streets interspersed with various youth and cadet corps, the police, and of course marching bands, the most haunting being the bag pipes.

The marchers are a mix of uniformed active duty and civi-attired veterans with retiree’s treated as the honored guests, especially any still alive from The Great War.  They walk if they can, are driven if they cannot.  Heroes that are gone are not forgotten.  Their legacy is carried (some literally in the form of antique photos), by their families, perhaps generations removed, marching in their stead.

In the United States, only uniformed active duty personal are allowed to wear their medals.  Not so here.  Active or not, uniformed or not, in the parade or in the crowd, hard earned medals are proudly displayed over the left breast.  Over the right, many wear the medals of the fallen – family heroes, their legacy remembered.  I have never seen such unification.  There were no signs saying “Hurray for dead soldiers” or “God loves dead Marines”.  I saw no one using this occasion to make a political statement or religious views.

Lest I have painted these people as saints, whom they will assure you they are not, following the solemn services and honored parades; the town erupts in a celebration of its heroes.   The pubs are full and loud with uniforms of every branch.  Young people being young people, but not being unruly.  Glasses are raised and cheers go out for rugby and football (soccer) games on the tellie (TV).  Though I’m sure there were a few incidences of excess (alcohol + youth + military), I saw none.  I saw something I wish we had back in the States.  A true day in which “We the People” recognize that freedom is not free and we honor those who have paid the price for us all.

God bless them all – all nations who believe in freedom and liberty, and those who are willing to hold the line to preserve it.

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