Many of us associate Memorial Day with a day off, barbecues and the opening of the pool. However, Memorial Day has a much deeper meaning, which is remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. One of the ways in which we remember the sacrifice of so many is the red crepe poppy. The American Legion Auxiliary, the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, passes out paper poppies on Memorial Day and throughout the year to raise funds for veterans. How did a simple paper flower become an iconic symbol?

 

After World War I, the poppy thrived throughout Europe and was frequently seen growing among newly dug graves in France and Belgium. This image was memorialized in a memorial poem “Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McRae:

 

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

 

In 1918, Moina Michael, inspired the poem by McRae, popularized the idea of wearing a poppy flower in memory of the fallen. She started a campaign to adopt the poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice. Additionally, the ALA adopted the red poppy as the American Legion Family’s memorial flower. Today, the ALA distribute millions of poppies annually across the country in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities. In 2016, ALA members throughout the U.S. distributed over 16 million red paper poppies and raised $6 million in donations that went directly to help the veterans who made them.

 

The inaugural National Poppy Day will be held on Friday, May 26, 2017 to broaden a tradition that started in the early 1920s. By wearing poppies, we’ll not only honor every service member who died in the name of liberty, freedom and democracy but provides an opportunity to support veterans.  Something as simple as a small flower crafted from paper is a powerful symbol of sacrifice, remembrance and inspiration.