May 26, 2008
Today in the United States Memorial Day is being celebrated across the breadth of the land. It is better known as the beginning of the summer vacation season than it is for the reason it was first celebrated — to remember the war dead from the U.S. Civil War and eventually all wars. It was meant to be a day of somber reflection and reconciliation. When I was a child, I can remember the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) selling red artificial poppies around Memorial Day to help raise money for veterans. Although the VFW still sells them, I don’t see as many people buying and wearing them. It seems to be a practice that has died as Memorial Day has become more of a “holiday” than a “holy day.” The tradition of the poppies was the begun Moina Michael, a U.S. citizen who, who was inspired by a 1915 poem written by Jack McCrae titled “In Flanders Fields.” The last line of that poem reads: “If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.” Later that same year, Ms. Michael penned:
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.
On a web site by David Merchant that provides the history of Memorial Day, he writes:
“She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.”
Andy Rooney, once a war correspondent but now more famous for his 60 Minutes diatribes, remarked on yesterday’s program that Memorial Day would truly be a day to celebrate if it marked the day when the world was able to end war and spare the lives of all the children who would have died had conflict not ceased. I fear that day is a long way off. So take a moment today and spare a thought for the valiant men and women who have been asked to sacrifice their blood on battlefields at home and abroad. Then help work for a brighter future in which promising lives need not be lost and hopeful dreams need not go unfulfilled.