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This Is Why We Stand: National Poppy Day


Today marks America’s inaugural National Poppy Day. The poppy flower has often been associated with remembrance for those who have fallen in times of conflict, especially since World War I. The American Legion hopes that this symbol of awareness will help people recognize the sacrifices of veterans and honor their memory. As this special day falls on the Friday before memorial day, it's important that we understand the significance behind the poppy.

The First World War began in August 1914. More than 65 million men took part in it. The fighting stretched to nearly every corner of the globe, but World War I is best remembered for the action that took place along the Western Front. This 400-plus mile stretch of land weaving through France and Belgium held horrors on an unimaginable scale. After an early war of movement, the Allies and Central Powers began to entrench, and thus began a stalemate that would not end until the United States entered the conflict nearly three years later in 1917. Both sides lobbed millions upon millions of artillery shells at one another’s trenches. These constant bombardments left horrifying images of death and destruction in their wake. While humans destroyed the landscape, nature reclaimed what was lost.

"Red poppies bloom on the walls of preserved World War I trenches in Diksmuide, Belgium. (Photo: The Atlantic)

The dailymail.co.uk writes that the, “Continual assault on the ground exposed millions of formerly dormant seeds. In the Spring of 1915 warm weather saw dazzling carpets of red bursting to life across the charnel fighting grounds.” The red poppy flowers also bloomed above the battle graves of those who had lost their lives fighting on the Western Front. The significance of the red poppy became immortalized in the poem of Canadian Lieutenant. Colonel. John McCrae. McCrae is said to have been inspired to write his poem, "In Flanders Fields" after presiding over the burial service for an artillery officer named Alexis Helmer.

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.

There are many different ways to interpret McCrae’s words, but a central theme behind them is the importance of always keeping faith with those who have died and never forgetting their memory.

Lt. Col. John McCrae of Canada and his poem, "In Flanders Fields." (Photo: Wyoming Arts Council)

On April 6, 2017, the United States commemorated the 100th anniversary of its entrance in the First World War. Once committed, over four million Americans served in the conflict. Germany and what was left of the Central Powers could not handle the limitless number of fresh troops that America was able to commit to the battlefield and by November 11, 1918, the war was over. Victory came at a price. From nearly a year and a half of fighting, The U.S. suffered 332,000 casualties and 116,000 deaths.

American forces pinned down while fighting in the Argonne Forest. (Photo: history.com)

The American Legion has been using the poppy as its official flower since 1920 and it hopes that this iconic symbol will become as revered in the U.S. as it is in other parts of the world. Next time you see a poppy, remember that this is more than just an ordinary flower. We must never break faith with those who died. We will always remember.

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