My memories of past Memorial Days sparked my curiosity about how the poppy had become such a strong symbol for our veterans. Who had started this tradition? How long has it been a part of our American lives?
I returned to The American Legion website and discovered that the soldiers returning from WWI had vivid memories of the battle fields covered with wild poppies. Poppies that were as “red as the blood that had soaked the soil.” These survivors felt that this little flower was Mother Nature’s message to them that their fallen comrades lived on–that they had not died in vain. Their feelings are expressed so poignantly in the poem, In Flanders Fields.
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 or quarrel with the foe.
To you from failing hands we throw The torch;
be yours to hold it high
If we break faith with us who die
We shall ot sleep
though poppies grow in Flanders Fields.
Col. John McCrea
It was this poem that influenced Miss Moina Michael to write her response:
…the blood of heroes never dies
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
in Flanders Fields.
She was very moved by Col McCrea’s poem. On a November day in 1918, Miss Michael bought all the red poppies the New York City Department Store, Wanamaker’s, had in stock. She returned to the New York City YMCA where she worked, and gave them to a group of visiting business men. She asked that they wear them as a tribute to those who had given their lives in WWI. She told them that the war may be over but America’s sons would rest forever in Flanders Fields. Miss Michael went on to campaign for the poppy to become a national symbol of the sacrifice.
I believe that more knowledge is powerful. The symbolism embodies in this little red flower is strong. May it empower us and help us remember the sacrifices made for our freedom.
God bless. Peace.