That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never die.
— Moina Michael (1869-1944) U.S. professor and humanitarian who originated the idea of red poppies as a symbol for Memorial Day.
Boulder City, the most patriotic American city by a dam site, considers Memorial Day as one of its most important holidays. We begin the weekend much like the rest of the country, welcoming the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation period by hosting the official Nevada state barbecue championship cook-off, accompanied by a car show and other events all sponsored by the Rotary Club.
However, when Monday, the actual Memorial Day, rolls around, we the living prepare to honor those killed in battle who made the ultimate sacrifice that made it possible to enjoy all the privileges our country offers. American Legion Post 31 and its auxiliary and volunteers place flags at each grave marker at the city cemetery. Nevada politicians vie to be present at noon ceremonies at the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery.
Unique among other communities, we also heed the annual president’s proclamation to honor our fallen heroes by playing “Taps” at 3 p.m. downtown while everyone in the vicinity stands at attention. Jim Ismert of PostNet again generously donated posters reminding everyone about this event.
Much has been taken for granted and the basis for some traditions forgotten, including the notable story behind the Remembrance Poppy.
During World War I, use of deadly gas was introduced into the already long list of lethal arsenal. A young Canadian army physician named John McCrae was especially depressed caring for so many wounded soldiers. He noticed red poppies blooming where no life seemed possible amongst the devastation near Ypres, Belgium, in May 1915. In order to console himself, he penned these first lines of his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”:
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.
McCrae died of pneumonia on Jan. 28, 1918, the year armistice was declared at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.
Two days before armistice was declared, a young lady volunteer from Georgia, Moina Michael, was working at a New York YMCA facility similar to our present day USO. She began reading a magazine article that contained Dr. McCrae’s poem and became transfixed by the last stanza:
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.
Deeply moved, she immediately penned a response and titled it “We Shall Keep The Faith” and the first verses read:
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.
Michael was determined to have the red poppy emblem become a national memorial symbol but after an initial burst of enthusiasm, public interest began to wane.
Discouraged but not defeated, she returned to teaching at the University of Georgia. The American Legion was founded in 1919 and Michael learned about the Legion in 1920. She convinced the Georgia delegation to present the idea of the poppy as the national emblem of remembrance to the national convention where it was adopted in September 1920.
Anna E. Guèrin, a French woman who was founder of the American and French Children’s League, was at the convention and conceived the idea of making and selling artificial cloth poppies with the proceeds donated to aid orphaned children. Under her vigorous leadership, she spread the concept to World War I French allies that included Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
Unfortunately, the American and French Children’s League was disbanded in 1922. Undaunted, she persuaded the American Veterans of Foreign Wars that year to continue the sale of the French-made poppies and the VFW adopted it as its official memorial flower.
In 1919 the American Legion Auxiliary was organized and it held its first convention in 1921, where it was decided that disabled American war veterans could make the poppies to earn sorely needed income. In 1923 the VFW also agreed to this idea. There are now 11 locations in the United States where disabled veterans make these poppies.
Now, when Memorial Day weekend comes, you know why so many proudly wear the red poppy: to signify remembrance of those brave departed service members, to show support for those veterans who make the poppies and, as Michael hoped, the poppy is the torch signifying we have kept the faith.
(Much of the information for this article was found at: http://tinyurl.com/c62daso and more interesting details can be found there.)
Glenn Nakadate is a Boulder City resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org