Opinion: Poppies commemorate veterans

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Commentary by Ward Degler

Buddy Poppies, fabric flowers pinned to clothing, are traditionally worn on Memorial Day and not Veterans Day. Even so, there is some confusion because their origins grew out of the armistice of World War I and Lt. Col. John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

For the record, Veterans Day originally was Armistice Day. Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, a day set aside to put flowers on the graves of those fallen in World War I. Decoration Day was unofficially called Memorial Day soon after the end of the Civil War, but wasn’t officially designated such until 1967.

At the end of World War I, France was devastated. Thousands were jobless, and untold thousands of children were orphans.

In response to this plight, a French woman by the name of Anna Guerin – better known as Madame E. Guerin – founded a charity called the American and French Children’s League. In keeping with McCrae’s poem, the organization started making red silk poppies to sell to support organizations around the world.

France was first to respond to the Poppy Lady’s appeal, followed by the Prince of Wales in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Cuba. In 1919, visited the United States and pitched the idea to the American Legion. At first, the Legion signed on, but a year later decided it liked daisies better than poppies and canceled.

Undaunted, Guerin turned to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), which immediately accepted the challenge and was poised to sell poppies starting the next year. Unfortunately, the Children’s League disbanded about the same time, and poppies were suddenly no longer available.

To solve the problem, the VFW turned poppy production over to the residents of veterans’ hospitals and retirement homes. The veterans immediately started making poppies in remembrance of their “Fallen Buddies.” The name stuck, and Buddy Poppies became the official name for the flowers.

Somehow, the poppies slipped away from Armistice Day and became a Memorial Day event. For years, the first Buddy Poppy was presented to the president of the United States by a movie star. Volunteers stood on street corners offering the silk flowers to passersby for a small donation – usually about 50 cents.

Since then, 750,000 buddy poppies have been distributed and millions of dollars have helped veterans’ causes. And to preserve the origin of all this, every Veterans Day, folks still recall the poem, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow among the crosses row on row.”

 

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