The Story of the Red Poppies for Veterans Day
Today, U.S. citizens honor all U.S. servicemembers with Veterans Day on November 11, but in many other parts of the world, the day is known as Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember military personnel who have lost their lives in war. Established by King George V in 1919, Remembrance Day evolved out of Armistice Day, which marked the end of hostilities in WWI in 1918.
After WWII, the day was renamed “Remembrance Day,” although Armistice Day is still celebrated on the same day. In the United Kingdom, Canada, France, South Africa, the U.S., Bermuda, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia, citizens pause at observe one or two moments of silence at 11 a.m. to remember the fallen. The United States rebranded its November 11th celebration after the Korean War to honor all U.S. veterans, living and dead.
In conjunction with the spirit of Remembrance Day worldwide, many wear a simply red poppy on the lapel, reminiscent of the red poppies (the annual herbaceous species of flowering plant “Papaver rhoeas”) that were among the first plants to bloom in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. The connection with the poppy and the fallen soldier was solidified with one of the era’s most famous poems, “In Flanders Field,” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. McCrae was reportedly inspired to write the poem after presiding over the funeral of his friend and fellow soldier 22-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem gives voice to those soldiers buried in the battlefield, pleading with survivors to take up the torch of their fight, and to remember them even though red poppies now cover the battlefield.
The poem gained widespread notoriety after McCrae was convinced to submit it for publication, and it was translated into many languages and published around the world. When American professor Moina Michael read the poem, she was so moved by it that she wrote her own poem in response, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” assuring that those dead and buried beneath fields of poppies that those still alive will take up the torch of their fight and “cherish the poppy red.” Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, herself pledge to always wear a red poppy in remembrance of those who had sacrificed their lives and began a very successful campaign to spread the practice, which was adopted across the nation, Europe, and countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth within three years.
A patriotic, active citizen, Michael had taken a leave of absence from her work to volunteer at the New York-based training headquarters for overseas YWCA workers as her way to aid in the war efforts. After the war was over, she returned to the university where she taught a class of disabled servicemen, soon realizing that these servicemen were in desperate need of financial and occupational support. She conceived of the idea of selling silk poppies as a fundraiser, and, in 1921, her efforts resulted in the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxiliary and by Earl Haig's British Legion Appeal Fund (later The Royal British Legion).
Today the red poppy remains a popular outward sign of remembrance in November. In 2014, a major art installation called Poppies: Wave and Weeping Window was unveiled at the Tower of London, displaying 888,246 ceramic poppies, each honoring a member of the British and Colonial forces who died during the Great War. In the United States, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day (also known as Poppy Days), millions of red crepe paper poppies – all handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation – are distributed across the country by the American Legion in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans.
Many organizations sell simple poppy lapel pins to support various veteran-related organizations, and some people choose also to wear a white poppy alongside the red poppy as a hopeful sign of peace. The red poppy is a simple way to show support those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending freedom across the globe.
If you are or know of a veteran who may need help with paying for senior care - such as assisted living, nursing home, or home care - please refer them to www.VeteranAid.org where they can find out more information on how to apply for the veterans Aid and Attendance pension benefit. This benefit is for both veterans and spouses of veterans.
Written By Megan Hammons