TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Jason Long on Nov 1, 2016

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2016

Journal Name: November 2016 - Vol. 52, No. 11

In Flanders Field the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row …

So begins perhaps the world’s most famous war memorial poem, “Flanders Field.” It was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae while at the front of the second battle of Ypres, Belgium, in 1915. Colonel McRae wrote the poem in a matter of minutes the morning after watching a close friend die on the field and handed it to a mail carrier to be preserved. The poem was as much a factual description of the scene before him as it was an encapsulation of the thoughts and emotions of a man engaged in life-and-death battle. The haunting images of the poppies blowing in the breeze on a field littered with the dying and wounded strikes the perfect tone for the lines to follow.

I always think of “Flanders Field” this time of year. First, it is a remarkable tribute to those who have died in battle. It is a call to arms for the living to carry on the unfinished fight. As the poem says: “To you, from falling hands, we throw the torch.”

Some suggest the poem is better suited to a Memorial Day tribute to honor our fallen heroes. For me, it will be linked forever with Veterans Day and the service of all veterans. My mother is to blame for that. Her birthday is Nov. 12, and “Flanders Field” is one of her favorite poems. Mom has always felt strongly about service to country. For years she advocated that any young person who enjoys the freedoms our country offers should repay that debt. Young people, in her opinion, should be compelled to serve two years in either the military or the Peace Corps, as a way of “earning” the freedoms we enjoy.

Yes, my mother can be a bit radical in her thinking. Her suggestion, while principled in nature, is not very practical in application. However, there is some wisdom in what she believes. It is too easy for us, and I include myself as one who did not serve my country in the military, to take for granted the work done before. We are allowed to stand on the shoulders of others who gave their time, effort and often their lives to ensure our democracy and the Rule of Law. We cannot truly appreciate our liberties without, in some way, sacrificing for them.

I believe most of us would agree that we owe a debt to our veterans. Perhaps it is not necessary to actually serve a tour overseas to begin to pay back that debt. Perhaps it is enough to say “thank you” and put to use our skills and talents as lawyers to assist those who have done the heavy lifting for us.

It is unfortunate and wrong that in our society many of those who most deserve our help, and who have truly earned it through their service, are unable to access that help. From obtaining needed benefits, to housing, to health care, to a whole host of other issues, veterans need guidance and sometimes patience in navigating what can be a complex administrative and legal system to get the services they need and to which they are entitled. This is where lawyers can begin to repay.

Under the leadership of American Bar Association President Linda Klein, the Veterans Legal Services Initiative is encouraging service to, recognition of, and celebration of veterans, as a part of this year’s Pro Bono Initiative. This is a signature project for the ABA this year, and our very own Allan Ramsaur is serving on this important commission. Service to and celebration of veterans is an admirable and important effort by the organized bar. Look for the hashtag #ABAServingVeterans for events and opportunities to support the effort.

Here in Tennessee, I would encourage every lawyer to take advantage of the many local legal clinics designed specifically for veterans or to attend a service on Veterans Day to express the appreciation that our men and women who served in uniform so richly deserve.

Jason Long JASON H. LONG is a partner with Lowe, Yeager & Brown in Knoxville. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, he is a past president of the TBA Young Lawyers Division and the Knoxville Bar Association Barristers.