CLARION - For Belgian native Karl Renier, November 11 is far more than just a date on the calendar. Last year he left a poppy wreath on the World War I statue in Franklin. This year he placed a wreath of poppies at the World War I marker in Clarion.
He explained that in Belgium, a country that was overrun by invading Germans twice in the 20th Century, the poppy represents the young men from many nations, including the United States, who fought and died to free his homeland.
Renier said that in World War I many soldiers were buried where they fell but their graves were lost. He said in the spring the poppies would grow over those graves, alerting the burial parties where the bodies lay.
"From a grateful Belgium, I brought a poppy wreath with me," said Renier.
The laying of the wreath in Clarion was special for Renier and a Clarion family.
"Bill (Buckley) is a good friend of ours so last September we visited the grave of his family members who are buried in Belgium," said Renier. "His great-great uncle was Robert S. Sloan who was killed in World War I."
Renier continued, "In September we visited the grave of another Buckley family member, Allen Metzger who was killed in action in World War II."
Renier said the marble crosses are difficult to read so he rubbed sand from Omaha Beach into the inscription.
"It brought out the lettering perfectly," he explained.
Metzger is the great-great cousin of Bill Buckley. Metzger was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Renier, a veteran of the Belgian Army has visited the 82nd Airborne Division Museum in Bastogne, Belgium several times. During the Battle of the Bugle the 82nd held off the attacking Germans until they were relieved.
Renier said there is a tradition in Belgium based on that battle.
Renier said during the battle, an American soldier went to the field hospital where he found many of his comrades in need of something to drink. The young American found a pub that had been damaged but the tap still worked. He filled up his helmet several times taking the frothy refreshment to his comrades.
Every year, a Belgian brewery produces "Airborne Beer" that is issued in a helmet shaped container honoring the ingenuity of that young G.I.
"The container is made of porcelain however and not steel," said Renier.
Renier has been a resident of Strattanville for the past 20 years. He originally visited here for the fishing but he stayed for another reason.
He met Audrey Blake and her husband in 1979 over the CB radio.
"We started talking and we wrote letters," he said. "We bought fax machines and started faxing. I visited Clarion for the first time in 1981 and then in 1991."
Renier lost his wife in 1999 and Audrey lost her husband in 2004.
"In 2006 we got in engaged and in 2009 we got married," Renier said.
Renier said the service of the young Americans has not been forgotten by the Belgians. He said in the town of Ypres the Belgians honor the slain Americans from World War I with an evening service every day. The service includes a full military tribute complete with a trumpet flourish.
"The Belgians have been doing this every evening since 1928 except for the time Belgium was occupied by the Germans in World War II," he said.
On November 11 the entire town lines the road and one person reads a poem that begins with "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old."
The final line of the poem is "We will remember them."
Renier concluded, "The whole town repeats that last line. In Belgium we remember the fallen.