Memorial Day - May 28, 2018

With Memorial Day just around the corner, we’re all getting in the festive mood. But as we get groovy with the upcoming long weekend break, let’s not forget about the solemn occasion we’re celebrating - the sacrifice of all the brave soldiers who died protecting our freedom. The memorial poppy helps us remember this great deed. But how did the flower come to symbolise this event?

The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves began right after the 1861-65 Civil War, out of the desire to commemorate their bravery. In 1868, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan, proclaimed that the 30th of May would be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion.” That’s why Memorial Day is also known as Decoration day.

Years later, after World War I, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician, wrote a poem entitled “In Flanders Fields,” which is all about the poppy flower. McCrae was inspired by what he saw walking in the fields in Flanders after the second battle of Ypres (Belgium): thousands of red poppies between crosses marking those who died in battle. Poppy seeds can lie dormant in the soil for over eight decades before germinating, which is usually triggered by some kind of disturbance of the soil. McCrae must have been moved by the new life that suddenly filled this previously bare graveyard. You can read his touching poem at the bottom of this blog post.

 

But this isn’t the end of the story. “In Flanders Fields” inspired Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, to write her own poem (which we also include at the end of this post). She came up with the idea of actually wearing red poppies on Memorial Day. That day, she sold them to her friends and co-workers, raising money for soldiers in need. This custom was later appropriated by Madam Guerin of France, who made and sold artificial poppies to raise money for children orphaned by war. This tradition spread to other countries, and that’s why crepe paper poppies are seen in the US on Memorial Day and in many other countries all over the globe.

 What has changed since the old days is the fact that Memorial Day is now celebrated every last Monday of May. Let’s keep this tradition alive for the veterans, for ourselves and for those who sacrificed their lives for us.

 

“In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Colonel 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.



“We Shall Keep the Faith” by Moina Michael

 

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died

 

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders field

 

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought

In Flanders field

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