|[Image from http://www.armchairgeneral.com]|
There is no definitive “origin” of Memorial Day. Its roots spread far into the past, but ceremonies and activities to remember the war dead became common during and after the Civil War. The first Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868 with the placing of flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The practice of decorating graves with flowers gave the holiday its original name, “Decoration Day.” These days the graves at Arlington are decorated with small American flags, honoring the sacrifice of the nation’s soldiers. Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday in 1971.
Around this time of year, as well as the weeks surrounding Veterans Day each November, you may see military veterans selling or passing out faux red poppies outside of shopping centers or at traffic lights. The significance of these poppies comes from the 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae after the World War I second battle of Ypres, Belgium. The poem, written from the perspective of fallen soldiers, centers around the poppies growing over their graves.
The poppy immediately became a symbol used to honor the soldiers of WWI and, eventually, all wars. In 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars began selling artificial poppies, with all proceeds going to aid veterans. In 1924, the VFW switched to poppies made by disabled and needy veterans. The American Legion Auxiliary also began the practice of handing out veteran-made poppies in exchange for donations. Both groups continue the practice to this day.
Have a safe and happy Memorial Day. And if you see a veteran passing out poppies, thank him for his service.
In Flanders Fields
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.