Red poppies a deserving symbol of Memorial Day

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

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 field.

The poem was written by John McCrae in 1915 during the height of World War I.

Across northern France and Belgium (Flanders), there were brutal clashes between Allied and Axis forces. The sheer number of soldiers tore up forests, and left the land barren. But in the spring of 1915, the bright red flowers began to pop up in the devastated land.

McCrae, a surgeon for the Allied Army, had seen the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres, tending to the wounded. The Germans had unleashed lethal chlorine gas, killing or wounding some 87,000 Allied soldiers. Many just went missing. Some 37,000 Germans were also lost in the battle.

One of McCrae’s best friends was among the dead. Many were buried on site.

And then — the barren land came alive with Papaver rhoeas, known now as the Flanders poppy, more of a weed than a flower, but with brilliant red blooms.

Those blooms inspired him to write the poem.

And those flowers — and the poem they inspired — hit home with folks across the Atlantic. Moina Michael had read the poem in Ladies Home Journal, and wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep Faith.” She vowed to always wear a red poppy. She also came up with the idea to make and sell red poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.

It turned into a national symbol of remembrance. The American Legion in 1920 voted to use the poppy as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance.

In France, Anna Gue`rin championed the poppy, as well, and they were sold there to help raise money to rebuild their country. It spread to England, then to other nations.

Here, we still wear the symbolic red poppy on Memorial Day. If you see a veteran selling or giving them away, take it and wear it proudly. Make a donation if it is given to you, money goes to support veterans, especially those wounded in war.

The “freedom isn’t really free” statement rings true here. Not only have men and women gone to battle on our behalf for generations, many never returned home. Imagine a young child who never knew their father. Imagine a lonely widow with one son, who died in war. Imagine that girl who became engaged on the day her sweetheart went off to war, and the pain she suffered when news came that she would never see him again.

Yes, freedom isn’t free.

Men and women have answered the call to serve their country and continue to do so. They do it knowing that there is a possibility of war — that they will be expected to fight for the freedoms we all enjoy.

Remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day, whether you knew them or not. Remember John McCrae, who witnessed the death of tens of thousands of his comrades, including good friends.

And remember the resilient red poppy, which gives us hope for peace and life in the midst of war and chaos.

Mike Barnhardt is editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.

Respect Quote of the Week

“Respect to me means giving to others even when it doesn’t benefit you.”

— Alaa Alkhabib