Flowers have a way of bringing a sincere smile to most faces and hearts, regardless if someone has them in their own yards or as wildflowers along country roads and even when one receives them from someone special.
The Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) members have a special flower that not only brings them a heartfelt warmth, but helps them to raise funds for various causes. It’s called the Poppy.
The “Remembrance Day symbolism” of the poppy started with a poem written by a World War I Brigade Surgeon who was on the battlefield and was awed by the beauty of the red flowers, otherwise known as a weed to many.
History suggests that “from 1914 to 1918, World War I took a greater human toll than any previous conflict, with some 8.5 million soldiers dead of battlefield injuries or disease. The Great War, as it was then known, also ravaged the landscape of Western Europe, where most of the fiercest fighting took place.”
It’s stated that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, spotted a cluster of poppies that spring, shortly after the Second Battle of Ypres.
McCrae tended to the wounded and then “got a firsthand look at the carnage of that clash, in which the Germans unleashed lethal chlorine gas for the first time in the war. Some 87,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing in the battle as well as 37,000 on the German side.”
Through the battle-scarred land, “he was struck by the sight of bright red blooms and wrote a poem, ‘In Flanders Field,’ in which he channeled the voice of the fallen soldiers buried under those hardy poppies.”
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.
The poem was published in Punch Magazine in 1915 and has since been used at memorial ceremonies and has become “one of the most famous works of art to emerge from the Great War.”
Later, a professor at the University of Georgia, Moina Michael, was reading the November issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal and read In Flanders Field, just two days before the armistice.
Michael took a leave of absence to volunteer at the New York headquarters of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which trained and sponsored workers overseas. Being so inspired by McCrae’s verses, she wrote her own poem, We Shall Keep Faith and vowed to always wear a red poppy with blooms on it, as her personal sign of faith and a remembrance of the sacrifices given.
After the war, she returned home and started making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning Veterans.
It is said that her idea did not progress very fast at first; however in 1920, the Georgia branch of the American Legion adopted the poppy as its symbol, and in September the National American Legion voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. National Emblem of Remembrance.
At the same time, a Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin also caught the “symbolic power” of the red poppy.
She was invited to the American Legion convention to speak about her idea for an “Inter-Allied Poppy Day” and convinced the Legion members to adopt the poppy as their symbol and started celebrating National Poppy Day in the United States the following May.
Guérin organized French women, children and Veterans to make and sell artificial poppies as a way to fund the “restoration of war-torn France.”
It’s said that “within a year, Guérin brought her campaign to England, where in November 1921 the newly founded (Royal) British Legion held its first-ever “Poppy Appeal,” which sold millions of the silk flowers and raised over £106,000 to go towards finding employment and housing for Great War Veterans.”
In 1922, Major George Howson set up a Poppy Factory in Richmond, England, where disabled servicemen were employed to make the fabric and paper blooms.
The heartfelt symbol birthed a patriotic fire, as other nations caught the vision, in adopting the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance.
Today, millions of people in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand proudly buy and wear the red flower every November 11 (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day) to commemorate the anniversary of the 1918 armistice.
The Poppy Factories, located in Richmond, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, make as many as 45 million poppies annually.
However, in the United States, the tradition for Americans is not only to wear poppies on Veterans Day, November 11, which honors all living veterans. Instead, they also wear it on Memorial Day to commemorate the sacrifice of the many men and women who have given their lives fighting for our country.
In February 1924, the name “Buddy Poppy” was registered with the U.S. Patent Office. That trademark is still a guarantee that all poppies bearing that name and the VFW label are genuine products of the work of disabled and needy veterans in many VA hospitals.
The VFW Buddy Poppy program provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.
Show your support today. Host a Buddy Poppy drive in your town, or have your local government issue a special proclamation which reads:
VFW “Buddy”® Poppy A PROCLAMATION WHEREAS: The annual distribution of Buddy Poppies by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has been officially recognized and endorsed by governmental leaders since 1922, and WHEREAS: VFW Buddy Poppies are assembled by disabled veterans and the proceeds of this worthy fundraising campaign are used exclusively for the benefit of disabled and needy veterans and the widows and orphans of deceased veterans, and WHEREAS: The basic purpose of the annual distribution of Buddy Poppies by the Veterans of Foreign Wars is eloquently reflected in the desire to “Honor the Dead by Helping the Living,” therefore I, , Mayor of the city of do hereby urge the citizens of this community to recognize the merits of this cause by contributing generously to its support through your donations for Buddy Poppies on the day set aside for the distribution of these symbols of appreciation for the sacrifices of our honored dead. I urge all patriotic citizens to wear a Buddy Poppy as mute evidence of our gratitude to the men and women of this country who have risked their lives in defense of the freedoms which we continue to enjoy as American citizens.