Memorial Day - Why We WEarEveryone celebrates Memorial Day in different ways. Some keep the day a solumn occasion, choosing to devote time to volunteering at Veterans Service Organizations or by visiting and honoring fallen service members. Others get together with family and friends for fun times and barbeques. However you celebrate the day, there is one common thing we all experience on Memorial Day – the poppy.

You probably have seen folks standing outside of the grocery store on Memorial Day handing out paper poppies. Or maybe you’ve seen a large group of veterans wearing them in the parade, or just around town. But do you know why they wear those poppies? Do you know what the poppy symbolizes on this holiday?

To learn why we wear poppies on Memorial day, we must first take a trip back in history. In 1915, during World War I, a Canadian soldier, John McCrae, was serving in Belgium near the Ypres-Yser canal. The area had been descimated and the landscape all but destroyed due to the war. But McCrae had noticed not all life had been lost on the battlefield. Near the trenches and sites where the soldiers had buried their fallen brethren, thousands of  delicate red flowers (poppies) had begun to bloom. It is said that he was so overcome with emotion by the sight of the poppies, he composed the now-famous poem “In Flanders Field.” A poem written from the perspective of the dead on the battlefield.

Fast forward three years later, just two days before Armistice was declared, YMCA military volunteer Moina Michael read the poem in a “Ladies Home Journal” magazine. Moina herself described the experience as “deeply spiritual” and felt as if the voices of those fallen soldiers were speaking to her from beyond. She then made a vow to always keep the faith and would from that point forward wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of rememberance to those who lost their lives. She also composed a poem titled “We Shall Keep The Faith” as a living response to the voices of the dead in the Flanders Field poem.

Ms. Michael began to direct her efforts on getting the United States to recognize the poppy as a national memorial symbol. Encouraged by the media, she began writing letters and petitioning congressmen to present the idea to the War Department  so the symbol would be ready in time for the signing of the peace treaty at Versailles in June 1919.

While she seemed to gain a lot of support, her efforts gained no real traction and by 1920 she began to lose hope that the Memorial Poppy would be recognized nationally. However, as a result of her tireless campaign in 1920, Moina met with a delegate to the Department of the American Legion who promised to present her case to its convention later that month. They were so interested and moved by the story, they agreed to endorse the movement to have the Poppy adopted by the National American Legion .

And here we are, 92 years later, still celebrating and honoring those who lost their lives in the line of duty thanks to the tireless efforts of a secretary volunteer named Moina Michael. So when you’re celebrating this Memorial Day, no matter how you celebrate, please make sure to take one of those poppies and give pause in recognition of those soldiers who have lived and died for our freedom.

IN FLANDER’S FIELD
by John McCrae 

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.

 

WE SHALL KEEP THE FAITH
by Moina Michael

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

 

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