The story behind the red poppies
May 23, 2007
This weekend is when Memorial Day is observed. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, after the official proclamation on May 5 by Major General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Originally the General Order No. 11 was to place flowers on the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War; but after World War I, the holiday was expanded to include honoring all who died in any war. It was originally called Decoration Day and in some areas of the country it is still referred to as that. In 1971, it was decided to change the observation of several of our holidays to a Monday to allow for more three-day weekends and avoid the holiday occurring in the middle of the work week. It has been said that since making this change, the true meaning of Memorial Day, as well as the other holidays that were changed, has been forgotten. Ever notice how the greatest lessons came from the most difficult circumstances and taking the easy way out doesn’t always provide the best benefit? Getting back to the basics is very sobering and powerful, in more ways than the obvious.
John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” which inspired Moina Michael to write her short 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.
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And in 1915, the Georgia native started the custom of wearing red poppies to honor those who died in times of war. Originally the artificial poppies were sold to help those affected most by the war – the orphans, widows, and many others left destitute. After learning of this custom during a visit to the United States, Anna Guerin returned to France launching her own version of the practice before returning to the United States to begin larger scale sales of the red poppies. Guerin, commonly called The Poppy Lady of France, had difficulty getting the program started and contacted Moina, who was named The Poppy Princess by the Georgia Legislature. They contacted the Veterans of Foreign Wars for help. In 1922, the VFW adopted the red poppy as its official memorial flower after the first nationwide distribution that year. After a shortage of live flowers,, the women came up with the idea of having unemployed and disabled veterans make artificial flowers. A factory was built in Pittsburgh, Penn., in 1924 so they would have a reliable source of red poppies and as a way of helping those directly affected by wars.
A variety of veterans service organizations will be out this weekend collecting donations in exchange for the red poppy. Today the poppies are assembled by veterans in medical facilities and veterans homes run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The donations received will continue to support the widows, orphans and service members affected by wartime.
I always donate to this cause – sometimes in several different locations. Many times I will say “No thanks” to the flower and sometimes the person on the other side of the table will insist that I take the memento. Until today, I wasn’t aware of the significance and meaning behind the little red flower. I will be proud to carry that flower from now on and will certainly look at it in a different light.
Thank you to all who have served and continue to serve to protect our freedoms and way of life and a special thank you to the families left behind who provide support and sometimes pay a bigger price in the loss of a loved one. We are grateful and appreciate your sacrifices.
— To reach Gail Davis, e-mail RuhenstrothRamblings@yahoo.com or call 265-1947.