Observing Poppy Day

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that this country has an overabundance of “holidays” and observances with the result we get kinda saturated with celebrations. Of course, there are lots that are just plain fun such as putting a pillow on your fridge on May 29th to bring good luck and wealth to your home because it is “Put a Pillow on Your Fridge Day.” June 24th is “Take Your Dog to Work Day” Why? Because supposedly “studies” have shown that bringing pets to work can increase productivity. Ever wonder who does these “studies”?

There’s one holiday lotsa people celebrate without waiting for the “official” day – it’s “Bourbon Day”. Yep, on June 14th , we are urged to set aside some time in the day to enjoy a glass of this uniquely American distilled liquor. Bourbon, made from corn and rye or wheat and aged in charred oak barrels, is usually associated with Kentucky where about 90% of the world’s bourbon is made. For a whiskey to be officially considered Bourbon it must be made in the US, have at least 51% corn and should not contain any artificial flavors or coloring. So sit back and enjoy this American treat on June 14th – butcha really don’t have to wait.

So why go into this subject now? Well, there’s another “day’ coming up that gets kinda lost amidst all the other holidays. It’s a “precursor” [that means something that comes before something else] to one of our best known national holiday celebrations. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day.

It’s the day designated for folks to wear a red crepe paper poppy whose petals have been bound together for veterans as part of therapeutic rehabilitation. Millions of these poppies have been distributed by the American Legion in exchange for donations. And, yes, Congress has passed legislation in support of National Poppy Day – although it is not an official national holiday.

Most everybody knows Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day because it grew from the custom of “decorating” the graves of those who lost their lives during the Civil War (or “War between the States”, if you prefer.) This practice spread and expanded until today it is an official national holiday honoring those military who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. But what about Poppy Day? Where did it come from?

Interestingly enough, this celebration has its roots in two poems, both of which originated from a war that ended 100 years ago in 1918 – World War I, also known as “The War to End Wars”. The first poem, ” In Flanders Fields” was written by Canadian medical doctor, Lt Col John McRae in 1915 for the funeral of his friend and colleague who was killed in France. The opening lines, “In Flanders Fields where poppies grow, between the crosses row on row” are among the most famous and often quoted in all patriotic poetry.

The second poem, to which can be most directly traced the symbolism of wearing a red poppy, was written by Moina Michael in 1918. Inspired by “In Flanders Fields” she wrote her own poem, “We shall keep the faith”. The last verse reads, “And now the Torch and Poppy Red, We wear in honor of our dead. Fear not that ye have died for nought; We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought in Flanders Fields” Her personal decision to wear a poppy to honor the fallen spread.

In 1920 the poppy became the official memorial flower of the American Legion and the American legion post in Milwaukee distributed 55,000 poppies and collected $5,000 in donations for charitable services. In 1942, some 100,000 American Legion Auxiliary volunteers distributed roughly 13 million poppies made by veterans. By 1988 nearly 25 million folks wore the poppy to honor our nation’s war dead and contributed about $2 million for charitable programs – and the trend continues..

Perhaps the best summary of the significance of the poppy was expressed by Norma Brown of the American Legion Auxiliary when she said, “What we must keep in mind is the basic purpose of wearing the poppy before and on Memorial Day is to honor our nation’s war dead. It is an individual’s personal remembrance of the sacrifice made by our fallen Americans.”

You know, Poppy Day is not simply a remembrance of some long ago past. We continue to bring home flag-draped caskets of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country from those who would destroy it. The poppy serves as a reminder of our tribute to them. At least that’s how it seems to me.


By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.