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Saturday, October 22, 2011


When I was growing up in the small village of Nelsonville, Ohio, I remember being given a crepe-paper  poppy to wear for Memorial Day.  My dad went to a lot of activities at the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and he probably brought them home.  I do have a vague remembrance of my mom getting some from a lady on the Village Square while shopping.  I have since learned that poppies were distributed around "Poppy Day", which was usually the same as Memorial Day in May.  I am not sure if this tradition continues today, I don’t recall seeing poppies any other time since my youth.

Poppies in the fields of Vignes, France

When we traveled recently to Northern France and Southern Belgium I was surprised to find myself in the area known as Flanders.  As we drove about along the back roads we found the “Flanders’ Poppies” growing along the edges of the roads. 
The use of the poppy was inspired by the World War I poem In Flanders Fields. Its opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers' graves in FlandersCanadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is popularly believed to have written it on 3 May 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend (a fellow soldier) the day before. 
The poem was first published on 8 December 1915 in the London-based magazine Punch

In Flanders Fields  written by Lieutenant 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.
Poppies in a field near Fromelles, France

In 1918, American YWCA worker Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, published a poem of her own called We Shall Keep the Faith.[2] In tribute to McCrae's poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.[1] At a November 1918 YWCA Overseas War Secretaries' conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending.[1] She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance.

"We Shall Keep the Faith"  written 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 Fields.
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 ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders Fields we fought
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