Poppies and their tie to Memorial Day

By Marsha Bible, Poppy Chairman

The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary has used the poppy as its symbol almost since our inception. The beautiful red poppy has remained as our way to recognize the lives lost to war since World War I and they play a large part in our Memorial Day ceremonies. Many of our members may not realize that the poppy is also worn in many of the countries that were Allied Forces during World War I including Great Britain, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

However, in most of those countries, the poppy is worn on what they refer to as Remembrance Day (our Veterans Day in the U.S.)

Red poppies bloomed in France and Belgium during World War I and were attributed to the soil that was enriched by rubble left over from the battles fought there. The bright red flowers sprouted around and among the rows of white crosses of fallen soldiers in Flanders Field American Cemetery & Memorial in Waregem, West Flanders, Belgium.

During the first World War, from 1914 to 1918, Flanders Field was a major battle zone. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire villages were destroyed and the U.S. 37th and 91st divisions suffered heavy casualties. At this peaceful site, 368 of our military dead lie in rest. Their headstones are aligned in four symmetrical areas around a white stone chapel that stands in the center of the cemetery.

Memorial Day to the American Legion Family is more than just cookouts and trips to the cabin over a long weekend. The holiday is about commemorating the millions of brave Americans who have given their lives defending the values our country was founded on. The words of John F. Kennedy say it best: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”

Our beautiful red poppy is a symbol to represent the ultimate sacrifice paid by our men and women who fought for our country. Poppies are typically seen in abundance over the month of May, especially during Memorial Day weekend. It shows as our way to keep our thoughts on the most important reason for the holiday.

How the poppy became the official Memorial Day flower began back in the spring of 1915. Allied battle surgeon and poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae saw the barren fields blanketed with the vibrant red poppies. In the spring of 1915, just after a battle that resulted in the deaths of 87,000 Allied soldiers, McCrae composed a poem on the spot. His poem was published in Punch magazine later that year and would become one of the most famous poems to emerge from World War I.

The American Legion made the poppy its official flower to memorialize those who fought and died on Sept. 27, 1920, and began national distribution programs around the country in 1924.

The most common way to use the poppy is to simply pin one on your lapel or hat. Emblem Sales have created many other poppy related items that can be worn or displayed. Check them out — there is a nice collection.

There is a nice cardstock poster that many units offer to local businesses that states “Honor America’s Veterans: Wear a poppy with pride.” These can be found at emblem.legion.org.

Many units have made beautiful corsages or bouquets to display throughout the holiday. Others have used the poppy to decorate anchors to represent those who died at sea. Still others have decorated crosses and Stars of David with poppies to display at religious ceremonies throughout their community. Another idea is to distribute poppies to all who attend your local Memorial Day ceremonies — without accepting donations.

Simply ask them to wear a poppy in remembrance. It’s amazing how much this small gesture means, especially to our elderly.