History gets personal on Veterans Day. It’s been 100 years since the first Armistice Day commemorated the sacrifices made by so many in The Great War. Again this year, the United States White House has named November as National Veterans and Military Families Month in honor of all veterans, both living and deceased.
I’ve always been humbled by the little red paper poppy my grandfather twisted through the buttonhole of my sweater when I was a small girl. Although he never spoke of his wartime service, I knew my grandfather had served in the Army during World War I. Most days, he raised an American flag on a tall standard outside their Southern California home. His lapel always held a poppy on Memorial Day.
I’ve since learned that he was part of the 314th Motor Supply Corps, a vital link in the historic St. Mihiel offensive drive on September 12, 1918. His unit furnished supplies to the trenches and moved troops for the Meuse-Argonne Campaign which effectively ended the war with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. He came home from The Great War, but not all his friends were so fortunate.
Wearing a poppy is a connection to my grandparents and to their generation. Each year, I’m glad to see veterans from groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars with paper poppies and a small can for donations. I’m afraid that one day there won’t be anyone left to sell the little paper flowers.
And, one hundred years after the end of The Great War, I am delighted to see our American commemoration of this holiday extended to honor all veterans during this month. It’s a good time to wear a red poppy.
The Remembrance Poppy Tradition
The Remembrance Poppy or Buddy Poppy is the popular symbol of Remembrance Day celebrated November 11 by many nations of the Commonwealth. The tradition of wearing the bright red flower was inspired by John McRae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” —
In Flanders Fields, by John McRae
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:McRae, John. “In Flanders Fields.” via PoetryFoundation.org.
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.
From Armistice Day to Veterans Day
Armistice Day is held annually on November 11 to commemorate the cease of hostilities between the Allied Forces of World War I and Germany. After World War II, Great Britain and Canada and many other countries changed the name to Remembrance Day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day, bells solemnly toll during a two-minute silence.
In the U.S., Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day during the Second World War. A distinction was made to honor living veterans on November 11, and commemorate veterans who had died while in the service on May 31, Memorial Day. The Buddy Poppy was traditionally worn on Memorial Day as a tribute to soldiers fallen in duty.
Veteran’s groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion in the U.S. have assembled and distributed the poppies since shortly after the end of World War I.
Lest We Forget
A few years ago I walked off the elevator at the second floor of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and was struck speechless by a wall of poppies. Larger-than-life poppy-covered panels filled several feet from floor to ceiling at the entrance to the library collections.
A note invited visitors to honor their veteran ancestors by adding a poppy to the wall. Vintage photographs showed the faces of men and women who had served in all branches of the armed forces. It was an honor to remember my grandfather and add his name to the memorial poppy wall.
Holidays evolve with time, and the American Buddy Poppy has become a frequent sight on Veterans’ Day as well as May 31. And, why not? Remembrance Poppies are worn each November in Great Britain, France and Belgium.
With November officially recognized in the United States as National Veterans and Military Families Month it’s a good time to wear a paper poppy in your lapel. And, if you see a veteran offering the red blooms for sale in front of your market, please make a donation and take few poppies to pass along to friends.
Enjoy a moving rendition of McRae’s poem “In Flanders Field” by Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott, from his album Remembrance. (Amazon Prime members can listen to “In Flanders Fields” free with their Prime subscription.)
P.S. I’m an Amazon affiliate and this website uses affiliate links. See full Disclosure for more info.
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Deborah Ruth says
Denise May Levenick says
Glad you enjoyed it.
Wendy V. Szallay says
Very interesting article …Thanks Denise.
Beverly Holbrook Treen says
I prefer the White Poppy which commemorates all victims of war and is a symbol of peace.