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Poppies of Memorial Day

Have you seen them? Veterans dispensing poppies in public places near Memorial Day? I have ... but it's been ... years and years and years. The last time I remember seeing poppies distributed was years ago at a grocery store. I was just a child.

Sad, how some of our cherished traditions falter for lack of understanding and remembrance. My grandparents always accepted those poppies. I was probably told the significance of those poppies, but the memory escaped adulthood.

Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, as we now call it, is quickly approaching. While researching a blog on the origins of Memorial Day, I came across a poppy. And I remembered.

May I never forget again.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae

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.

This poem was written as an expression of grief. World War I Colonel John McCrae's grief. Grief that took flight to words after viewing "row on row" of soldiers graves who died on France's Flander's battlefields. McCrae was a surgeon with Canada's First Brigade Artillery. His vision? His inspiration for the poem? The striking image, forever burned in his memory, of bright red poppies blooming among the overwhelming rows of white crosses that represented human lives ... lost.

It was this poem, first published in December of 1915, which became a rally cry to all those who fought in the First World War.

And among those who answered the call ... the cry, was two women; one of France, one American. Anna E. Guerin of France and Georgia native Moina Michael worked exhaustively to initiate sales of artificial poppies to benefit the families of fallen war heroes.

In 1920, with the aid of The American Legion, the first sell of these remembrance poppies was documented. Proceeds from that first sale went to the American and French Children's League.

2011 -- the tradition continues. According to the American Legion Auxiliary, "The financial benefit realized by our nation’s veterans as a result of poppy distribution is huge; nearly 3.5 million poppies were distributed by units last year, raising $2.1 million." For more information on distribution and to aid in this event, click here to visit American Legion Auxiliary mission outreach program.

Thankfully this tradition seems to be alive and well. We're fortunate. And I, for one, will be on the lookout to find those worthy volunteers this year and hopefully and proudly wearing my poppy.

May we always remember.

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