Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why the Red "Buddy Poppy" on Memorial Day


In the World War I battlefields of France, poppies grew wild amid the ravaged landscape of Flanders Field. How could such a pretty little flower grow wild while surrounded by death and destruction? The overturned soils of battle enabled the poppy seeds to be covered, thus allowing them to flourish and grow amidst the devastation of war.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Doctor with the Canadian forces was serving in Belgium and after witnessing the death of his friend,  looked out upon the battlefield and was taken aback at the sight of all the bright red poppies growing in the midst of the carnage. As a result, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae put pencil to paper and penned the poem “WeShall Not Sleep” which later became more widely known as “In Flanders Field”.

In Flanders Fields
(originally entitled “We Shall Not Sleep”)
John McCrae, 1915.

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 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.

Unfortunately, John McCrae was not to see the end of the War. He was wounded in May 1918 becoming a patient in his own hospital near the French coast where, suffering from pneumonia, he died three days later.



The idea for a Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy came to Miss Moina Michael of Georgia while she was working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters on a Saturday morning in November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared at 11 o'clock on 11 November.  The Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries was in progress. On passing her desk, a young soldier left a copy of the November Ladies Home Journal on Moina's desk.

At about 10.30am, when everyone was on duty elsewhere, Moina found a few moments to read the magazine. In it she came across a page which carried a vivid color illustration for the poem "We Shall Not Sleep" (later named "In Flanders Fields") by the Canadian Army doctor John McCrae.

Reading the poem on this occasion - she had read it many times before - Moina was transfixed by the last verse - "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."

She then conceived of an idea and started the practice of wearing 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.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was the first veteran organization to promote a nationally organized campaign for the annual distribution of poppies assembled by American disabled and needy veterans. In 1924, the VFW patented the name "Buddy Poppy" for their version of the artificial flower. Buddy Poppy proceeds represents no profit to any VFW unit. All the money contributed by the public for Buddy Poppies is used in the cause of veteran’s welfare, or for the well being of their needy dependents and the orphans of veterans.

Following the 1924 sale, the VFW believed it would stimulate local sales if the poppies they used were assembled by disabled veterans in hospitals within their own jurisdiction. The 1924 encampment of the VFW at Atlantic City granted this privilege, under the provision that all poppies would be produced according to specifications set forth by the National Buddy Poppy Committee, and that all poppies would be assembled by disabled veterans in government hospitals and by needy veterans in workshops supervised by the VFW.

Around the same year, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as the organization's memorial flower and pledged its use to benefit our servicemen and their families. Today, the poppy continues to provide a financial and therapeutic benefit to those hospitalized and disabled veterans who construct them, as well as benefiting thousands of other veterans and their families.

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.

As you are standing on Cross Bay Boulevard watching the Broad Channel Memorial Day Parade tomorrow afternoon and your child asks why a veteran handed him or her a "Buddy Poppy", take some time to explain the history of this practice which, unfortunately, is all too often forgotten by many of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment