One tradition that came out of Memorial Day was the wearing of red poppies. The wearing of poppies derived from a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrea of the Canadian Army. He was a military doctor who was inspired to write the poem after watching the pain and death that comes from war and, specifically the death of a young friend.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields the Poppies blow
Between the crosses row by 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.
An American woman, Moina Michael wrote a response to Lt. Col. McCrea's poem. Part of her poem reads:
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 followed up her poetic response by wearing a red poppy and she began selling them to her friends and donating the proceeds to soldiers in need. This tradition spread to other countries, and in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was the first veteran's organization to sell red poppies nationwide. Mrs. Michael was eventually honored for her role in starting this Memorial Day tradition with a U.S. postage stamp with her likeness on it. The 3 cent stamp with her likeness can be seen at http://www.newgeorgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Multimedia.jsp?id=m-9062. For more information about the VFW and the red poppies, see the VFW's web site at http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=cmty.levelc&cid=127&tok=1.
This week I was given the opportunity to go inside a B-17 that had been flown during World War II. Climbing inside and hearing about the experience of the plane's crew members gave me such a deeper respect for those who have fought for us, so that we could live in peace and freedom. Taking one day a year and honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice seems like such a little thing, but what a huge impact it has on those who are now gone and those who are left.
Memorial Day celebrations can be found in almost all communities. A World War II museum near us is having a flower drop in honor of Memorial Day, while the local cemeteries are having events that honor fallen soldiers from all wars. Memorial Day is a great time to tell the stories of the soldiers in your family, whether killed in battle or not, and remind our family members, both young and old of the sacrifices that have been made for us.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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