The power of a poppy
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally marks the start of the summer season, is really about the annual American tribute to the men and women who have served in the military. It’s a chance to pause and reflect on what so many have given, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Many no doubt know the history of Memorial Day. It was initially known as Decoration Day and became popular following the Civil War in the late 19th century. Eventually, it became known as Memorial Day and in 1971 an act of Congress established the last Monday in May as the official holiday.
But how many know the history of the poppy and its place in the weekend ceremonies? We’re sure many have purchased a poppy during a Memorial Day event and know the money paid is used to help fund American Legion activities. But what were the reasons for the poppy becoming a significant part of Memorial Day?
We have to admit we didn’t know, and it took some prompting by the members of the local American Legion and the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club to look into the history of it.
The American Legion Auxiliary National Headquarters gives a brief history of the Poppy Program as follows:
“The poppy as the memorial flower for American war dead is a tradition which began in the years following the first world war. Veterans returning to their homes in this country remembered the wild poppies which lined the devastated battlefields of France and Flanders, and the soldiers of all nations came to look upon this flower as a living symbol of their dead comrades’ sacrifice. A Canadian officer, Col. John McCrae, immortalized the flower in his famous poem, ‘In Flanders’ Fields’.
“Returning servicemen brought with them memories of the battlefield poppies, and the flower soon took on a sacred significance. The poppy soon became a symbol of honoring the dead and assisting the living victims of war.
“Soon after the armistice, patriotic organizations in different countries began conducting poppy sales. The flowers, made by disabled servicemen, raised funds for relief work among handicapped veterans and their families. Wearing a poppy came to mean honor the dead and help the living.
“During the same period, the poppy also became the memorial flower of the British Legion. Other American veterans’ organizations followed the American Legion and Auxiliary in adopting it as their official flower of remembrance. Shortly afterward, millions of the memorial flowers were worn each year throughout the English-speaking world to honor the war dead and aid living but disabled veterans.
“By 1924, it was realized the Poppy Program would be best handled by women and the American Legion gave the Auxiliary complete charge of the national program. The Auxiliary lived up to the great responsibilities this carried. At present, approximately 25 million Americans wear Legion and Auxiliary poppies in tribute to the war dead, contributing nearly two million dollars for the rehabilitation and well being of disabled veterans.”
So this weekend, when someone is selling poppies at one of the many events around the area, we urge readers not to turn away. The small amount paid for a poppy, generally a dollar or two, goes to fund good work.
Purchasing a poppy is just another way to show support for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, the country.
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”