By Mike Kemery
“What is that little, red flower, and why are the ‘old’ people trying to hand one to me when all I want to do is shop?”
During the month of May, many will see veterans passing out little, red, artificial flowers at many locations within our city. That flower is representative of the poppy, which is the official Remembrance Flower for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
It all began with a simple poem written during World War I called “In Flanders Fields,” and it impacted two women thousands of miles apart – a professor at the University of Georgia, Moina Belle Michael, and Madame Anna A. Guerin of France. Neither would know of the other nor meet for years.
Miss Michael was so deeply touched by “In Flanders Fields” she became a volunteer and went overseas during the war and saw rows of dead soldiers, and the plight of the soldiers and the effects on their families. She vowed that those perished would not be forgotten. She became known as the “Poppy Lady” in the United States.
Madame Guerin lived through the devastation of her country. It was she who thought the poppy was appropriate for remembrance of so many lost lives, based on the poem. She established a way of making small, artificial flowers by paying those disabled by the war to make the poppies and then all the donations collected from the flowers would go to assist the widows and orphans. She was already known as the “Poppy Lady of France” when she came to the United States in 1919 and asked the newly-formed American Legion to sponsor her efforts.
In 1920, at their second national convention in Cleveland, the American Legion passed the resolution, but the following year the delegates repudiated the poppy in favor of the daisy. So later that year the two “Poppy Ladies” finally met and sought a new sponsor, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The first successful nationwide distribution began in May 1922. The program was adopted by the VFW that August.
In 1924, the VFW had the name “Buddy Poppy” trademarked.
Today, all “Buddy Poppies” are still made by the disabled. They are only sold to local VFW posts and then distributed for free in the community. Any donations go into a special account to be used the way it was originally intended – for those veterans and their families in need.
The poppy is the Remembrance Flower, and it would be great if all wore it come Memorial Day.
Mike Kemery is a past post commander of VFW 12043.
This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.