In 1915 Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was in charge of a field hospital at the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He wrote “In Flanders Fields” after watching a friend die in battle. The poem explores the wartime conflict between patriotism and tragedy; it was published in 1915 in the magazine Punch and was widely reprinted. Charles Ives set the poem to music in 1917, in response to the entry of the United States into the war.
After returning from Europe, McCrae became a medical examiner at Mutual Insurance, which is how he met Ives, who worked in the insurance industry. McCrae returned to active duty and died of pneumonia in France in 1918. A collection of his work, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems (1918), was published after his death.