History of the Red Poppy

By Payton Tholstrup

The Red Poppy symbolizes the bloodshed and sacrifices that were made in war to protect American freedom. Inspired by the wartime poem, “In Flanders Field” written by Lt. Colonel John McCrae M.D. during World War I, the red poppy later became a national symbol, with the Friday before Memorial Day becoming National Poppy Day. The poem is below:

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.

In November of 1918, Moina Michael impulsively bought a bouquet of red poppies and handed them out to New York businessmen. Even though the war was over, she asked the businessmen to wear them to honor the fallen soldiers. Later, Moina led a campaign that resulted in the U.S. adopting the red poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice. In 1923, it became the official flower of the American Legion.

Every year, over 2,5000 veterans handcraft the paper crepe flowers with the help of unpaid volunteers. The veterans earn a small wage for their work. Volunteers do not sell poppies; instead, they distribute them on National Poppy Day, asking the person receiving the poppy to donate to the poppy fund. 100% of donations help support veterans and active military.

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