Memorial Day & The History of the Poppy Flower

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As Memorial Day approaches, red poppies begin to make their annual appearance, especially pinned to people's lapels, tote bags or even hats. These colorful flowers, often made of fabric or crepe paper honor and memorialize fallen soldiers, as well as serving as a fundraiser to support our nation's war veterans. The red poppy officially became the national emblem of remembrance in 1920, but the resilient little flower's roots run deep, all the way back to the battlefields of World War I, where they grew in the unlikeliest of places.

Memorial Day & The Histroy of the Poppy Flower

Despite their cheerful flowers, poppies are technically classified as weeds. They have grow in even the most inhospitable of landscapes — including the war

torn battlefields in 1915. Even though the landscapes were left devastated, red poppies arose from the wreckage come spring, like tiny beacons of hope.

According to the History Channel, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was particularly moved by the red flowers he saw popping up all over the Europe after the human conflicts had quieted. He noticed a cluster of poppies blanketing Flanders Field in Belgium that spring, where he was serving as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit. Soon after, a huge battle tore through the area, killing 87,000 allied soldiers, including one of McCrae’s closest friends.

Overcome with sorrow, he wrote the poem “In Flanders Field” to channel his grief. Told from the perspective of the fallen soldiers buried beneath the poppies, it honored the troops who lost their lives in that conflict:

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

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.

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