This month members of the American Legion Auxiliary have been selling small red poppies to raise money for programs that serve disabled and hospitalized veterans. The poppy has become a symbol of Memorial Day through its connection to the well-known poem In Flanders Fields, written on May 3, 1915 by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He drew his inspiration from the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier killed in the Second Battle of Ypres.
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.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
According to information cited by the historical society, poppies were one of the few plants able to thrive in the region after the fighting ended. The earth was so damaged the lime content was greatly increased, thus altering the landscape.
The poem inspired an American — Moina Michael — at the war’s conclusion in 1918 to wear a red poppy year-round to honor the soldiers who had died. She handed out silk poppies and campaigned to have it adopted as an official symbol of remembrance by the American Legion, which it did at its convention in 1920.
The poppy is a symbol of remembrance not only here but in Great Britain, Canada and South Africa as well.
The War to End All Wars failed to live up to its name, and many of those who went to serve our country in Europe never returned, even after they were killed.
This Memorial Day we honor all who gave their lives in service to this country, some whose names we will never know. The paper poppies “bloom” for them, made by veterans in hospitals and rehabilitation centers to assist their comrades in arms.
If someone offers you a small red poppy, please make a donation and remember the very big sacrifice it symbolizes.