The weekends before Memorial Day find many war veterans distributing poppies to honor the ultimate sacrifice of our fallen war dead. In New Canaan, members of our local Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) Post 653 distribute poppies at several locations including Walter Stewart’s Market, Zumbach’s, and ACME, with donations funding flag and wreath placements on veteran graves in Lakeview Cemetery.
The significance of the poppy in honoring our nation’s war dead is traced to World War I. From the battlefields of World War I, weary soldiers brought home the memory of a barren landscape transformed by wild poppies, red as the blood that had soaked the soil. By that miracle, the poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war and represented the hope that none had died in vain. The poppy has continued to bloom for the casualties of wars, its petals of paper bound together for veterans by veterans, reminding America each year that the men and women who have served and died for their country deserve to be remembered.
Although poppies have a long history of being used to honor the dead in both Greek and Roman mythology, the poppy, as a memorial flower to the war dead, can be traced to a single individual, Moina Michael. She was so moved by Lt. Col. McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields,” that she wrote a response:
“. . . the blood of heroes never dies
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders’ Fields.”
On impulse, she bought a bouquet of poppies – all that New York City’s Wanamaker’s Department Store had – and handed them to businessmen meeting at the New York YMCA where she worked. She asked them to wear the poppy as a tribute to the fallen. That was November 1918. World War I was over, but America’s sons would rest forever “in Flanders’ Fields.” Later she would spearhead a campaign that would result in the adoption of the poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice.
This Memorial Day, honor our war dead by wearing a poppy proudly and remember the grave sacrifice many have made while fighting for the freedom we all revere.
Leon M. Krolikowski,
Member, Post 653, New Canaan VFW
Many thanks, Leon, for this important tribute.