Here’s Why Red Poppies are Connected to Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day, some wear red poppies, either real or paper, to pay their respects to those who gave their lives serving their country.

The story of red poppies worn on Memorial Day dates back almost 100 years, but there are plenty of people who’ve still never heard the story.

The Veterans Administration describes Memorial Day this way:

Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.

It’s worth noting that Veterans Day honors living veterans and the sacrifices they have made or continue to make in their service to the country.

Commemorating fallen soldiers with red poppies originated in a poem.

Lt. Col. John McCrae was a Canadian physician and World War I soldier. McCrae presided over the funeral of fellow soldier Lt. Alexis Helmer and then was inspired to write the poem, “In Flanders Fields” on May 3, 1915.

As the story goes, he was unhappy with what he wrote, but fellow soldiers found the discarded attempt.

It was about a field where soldiers had been laid to rest. Red poppies grow across the hallowed ground around the graves and cross grave markers.

It was published on December 8, 1915. The poem, now said to be in the public domain, begins with this:

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.

A University of Georgia professor, Moina Michael, read the poem while volunteering in New York at the YWCA. She reportedly vowed to always wear a red poppy and at the end of WWI, began making and selling red versions to raise money to support returning veterans.

She eventually pursuaded Georgia’s branch of the American Legion to adopt the poppy as its symbol.

Meanwhile, in France, Anna Guérin who also embraced the red poppy symbolism, spoke to the American Legion convention to speak about her idea for an “Inter-Allied Poppy Day.” Guérin helped convince the Legion members to adopt the poppy as their symbol.

Other nations soon followed suit in adopting the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance, though most other countries wear the poppies on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

So that’s the origins of the red poppies used to commemorate the holiday.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that Memorial Day is not an appropriate occasion to use the word happy when extending holiday wishes.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.