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The Poppy Story


By Elaine Guerrazzi | May 25, 2020

I have written blogs in the past year about how memories and keepsakes can symbolize and tell the story of your life.  Today is Memorial Day and it made me think about what are the symbols that tell the story of our country’s life. In my blog Memorial Day 2019 I stated, “Today is a day to remember the fallen, and the sacrifice made for our country.  This is a day to honor that sacrifice by living a meaningful life.”  The Library of Congress seemed like the place to find out about what has been written about our symbols.  I found a perfect source titled “Symbols of the United States”.  

Every nation has symbols—specific objects that represent beliefs, values, traditions, or other intangible ideas that make that country unique. While these symbols may change over time, they can help to bind a nation together by reminding its people of their nation’s history and most important principles. Six U.S. symbols are depicted in this primary source set: the Liberty Bell, the U.S. flag, the bald eagle, the national anthem, Uncle Sam, and the Statue of Liberty. 

These six symbols represent the broad view of American history. The symbol that identifies, describes, and commemorates Memorial Day is the poppy. In 1920 the American Legion began distributing poppies to memorialize soldiers who fought and died in World War I. I have often donated to the American Legion in exchange for a poppy.  I proudly hung the poppy from my rearview mirror in my car or attached it to my bulletin board at work.  I only know the basic story about the poppy and the symbolism. I wanted to find I more.

The Poppy Story That I Know

The poppy is a hardy plant and one of the few plants that would grow and flourish on the desolate battlefields after the war.  The red poppy would come to symbolize the wartime bloodshed.  The flower became an inspiration for McCrae’s 1915 poem, in Flanders Field.

The theme of the poem:

The living must continue to live for those killed to ensure the soldiers have not died in vain.

Read more: Inspiration for the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

There is more to the Poppy story…The Poppy Lady

The origin of the red poppy as a modern-day symbol of Memorial Day was the idea of an American woman, Moina Michael. 

Read more:
Moina Belle Michael and the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy

In New York in November 1918 an American woman called Moina Michael came across the poem by John McCrae. She was so moved that she made a personal pledge to “keep the faith”. She felt compelled to make a note of this pledge and hastily scribbled down a response entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith” on the back of a used envelope. From that day she vowed to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. Source: Unknown

From Amy Pak – Home School in the Woods (facebook post)

The importance of knowing our history is that it provides us a window into the past.  Understanding the past allows us to appreciate the present.  Memorial Day is associated with the beginning of summer, picnics, etc.  I hope you take a few moments today to honor the past and appreciate the how the sacrifice has enhanced your present.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget
that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words,
but to live by them.
John F. Kennedy

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