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Is that a poppy on your lapel?

November 11, 2010
Poppy worn on the lapel

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t typically write “theme” articles, but in honor of Veterans Day in the U.S. (Remembrance Day in the rest of the world) I give you my thoughts on the poppy.

If I were to guess, I would bet that most Americans don’t understand the significance of the little red flower as it relates to this memorial holiday. Lets face it, we Americans don’t cotton to following the traditions of foreigners. You know, except as it relates to drinking on St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, and drinking on Cinco de Mayo. Wait, one more, drinking on Mardi Gras (the Italians get credit for the first Carnival traditions in 1268).

However, I like the poppy tradition that other countries have embraced, so I’m going to champion it here. I think we can make some space on our ribbon adorned lapels to show our support for those who sacrificed to protect us in the past and those who sacrifice to protect us in the here and now. With that, I give you the story of the poppy.

During World War I, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician, penned the poem “In Flanders Field” the day after his dear friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer died following a battle in Belgium.

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.

The poem was published soon after in London, and went on to inspire the wearing of poppies on Remembrance Day. In the UK and Canada, the poppies are worn for two weeks preceding Remembrance Day.

In the U.S., the Veterans of Foreign Wars began distributing “buddy poppies” in 1922, a practice that continues today. Sadly, I can count on one hand the number of Americans I’ve seen wearing the poppy – and that’s in my lifetime. I don’t know why so many Americans are unaware of the poppy tradition and what it signifies, but I think it’s an adornment we should consider promoting, especially now that we’re a nation with so many young military personnel who have served and continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fortunately I was given a poppy last year by a friendly foreigner. I will be wearing it on this Veterans Day as a sign of thanks to those soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors who have sacrificed in so many ways, but most of all, to those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Don Dunnington permalink
    November 11, 2010 12:26 PM

    In France they still call it Armistice Day, and it is a national holiday. The streets of Paris were crowded way past midnight on Wednesday night, with people celebratiing their day off on Thursday. I didn’t see any poppies. I suspect most were unaware they were celebrating the end of WWI on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

    We used to call it Armistice Day in the US. When I was growing up, on Armistice Day you’d see VFW members selling paper poppies on every street coner of my town. All the men bought them and wore them in their suit jacket lapels (remember suit jackets?). I bought one last year from a VFW member selling them in a local shopping center. I didn’t have a jacket lapel; so I hung it from my car mirror.

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