Remembering the Less Honored
Richard Lee “Dick” Harris
Each Memorial Day we proudly wear our Red Poppies and decorate graves. And, when I attended two-room Rockport, WA, School, we recited, “In Flanders fields where poppies blow/Between the crosses row on row . . .” (John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”)
With each new Decoration Day, my thoughts turned more and more to the less honored who died in the service of their countries and our remembrance of them. These gradually coalesced into a poem.
As I drafted the poem, three individuals came to mind, giving the poem a face. Foremost, was my great-uncle Mark Harris who grew up in Maple Falls, WA, died in the closing days of World War I, and is buried in Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, WA. The others are a brother and sister from North Yorkshire, England, who died during World War II, and whose epitaph intrigued me.
I learned about my great-uncle in 1984 when I read my Aunt Belva Harris Poldervart’s newly published book, “On The Move” From Oxcarts to Motor Homes. With this information, his draft registration from Ancestry.com, and The Trail Through The Woods (Frances B. Todd, 1982), I created a picture of Mark.
Harris was born to Lydia Baker Harris and Civil War Veteran Chancy Harris on March 20, 1893, in Bradford, Chickasaw County, Iowa, ninth of 12 children. In 1907, he moved with his widowed mother and six siblings to Maple Falls with a “colony” of destitute Iowa residents recruited by a team of Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroad agents to begin a new life in the Pacific Northwest. Their ticket: passage in a boxcar!
On June 5, 1917, when Harris registered for the draft, he was medium height and build, with blue eyes and dark hair, and had a crooked finger on his right hand. He lived at 2226 Franklin Street, Bellingham, with his mother and brother, whose dependency he claimed as grounds for exemption from war. He was employed as a shingle weaver by Holly Shingle Company in Mill Town, Skagit County, WA.
Bivouacked at Camp Vancouver, Washington, during the 1918 flu pandemic, Mark contracted bronchial pneumonia. He died on October 22, 1918, five days after falling ill. He was buried in Bayview Cemetery on October 27, 1918.
It is unlikely today, that those who pass by grave 8, lot 15, section 3, notice the unadorned headstone on, with scarcely enough room for great-uncle Mark’s name and mismarked dates of 1894-1919.
For the last verse of the poem, I chose the epitaph on a plaque in Fountains Hall, a Jacobean mansion now a ruin, in North Yorkshire. It commemorates the lives of Elizabeth Vyner, an 18-year old nurse who died with encephalitis while on active duty in 1942, and her brother Charles, who was missing in air operations off Rangoon, Burma, three years later.
for Mark Harris, 1893-1918
A cloudless sky,
a day filled with spring,
a day to remember those
who lay in common ground,
Fallen without honor,
unseen by us,
whose flags they bore.
As volleys resound in sharp salute
and banners dip to a trumpet’s call,
it is our day to remember
plaques that cling to crumbling walls,
and plead as we pass by:
Tell them of us and say,
for your tomorrow,
we gave our today.
“Memorial Day” was originally published as “Memorial Day, 1995” in Tough Guys Don’t Give Up, ed. Mary Hamilton [Gillilan] (Bellingham, WA: SunPorch Productions, 1996). Currently published by the author in Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2010.)