Monday, May 25, 2015

Flanders Fields, Memorial Day and red poppies

An interesting post over at NRO's Corner concerning the practice of wearing red poppies, something associated with Armistice Day, and the poem "In Flanders Fields" by WWI vet Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae:

To make a long story short, I travel around quite a bit and on my travels to the U.K. and Canada I would occasionally see men and women wearing red crepe-paper poppies. Either through complete cluelessness or stupidity, I had never learned or had forgotten that these were worn on Memorial Day as a remembrance of those who have died in our nation’s service. The practice takes its origin from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae. . . . Given the fact that its origins rest here in the lower 48, there is a certain irony in the fact that the practice appears to be more widely observed abroad than in the U.S. Perhaps it’s because we have the day off, but it seems a pity. Last year, I resolved myself to bring the poppy back to my little corner of the world. We’re buying 1,000 to give to friends and clients and colleagues.
At first, I read this post and thought the well meaning author was incorrect in associating this tradition with the U.S. and Memorial day, but thanks to the existence of Google search engines, I find he is correct, and am embarrased I didn't know this history. Here's the skinny: From THIS story:

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30,1868 [typo corrected here from 1968 ed.] and was originally labeled Decoration Day. In the following years, by an act of Congress, the day of remembrance was moved to the last Monday of each May and renamed Memorial Day. The tradition of the red poppy has become a formality of Memorial Day which is often overlooked. Inspired by a poem entitled, "In Flanders Fields", the poppy has become the flower symbol for the Memorial Day Holiday. From the poem, written by Canadian physician and soldier John McCrae, we develop a sense that the poppy represents the blood shed by soldiers during times of war. Although the poem was written by McCrae, the poppy was first recognized as the Memorial Day flower in 1915 when a woman by the name of Moina Michael began to sell poppies in an effort to encourage further recognition of the day. Michael helped to begin the National Poppy movement and to commemorate her efforts a 3-cent stamp was created in her honor. And from

In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own poem: 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. She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.