Yes, poppies were the evil flowers that put Dorothy and her friends to sleep in the Wizard of Oz. They also contain the killer seeds of the opium crisis. But the bright, blood-red poppy blossom represents something more as well: the memory of lives lost in battle. And maybe–just maybe–a bit of hope for those left behind.
Many consider Memorial Day a special day to honor all of our veterans, but purely technically it’s not (that’s Veteran’s Day, which has often somehow become a day for bargain hunters to score awesome deals on clothes, appliances, cars, and mattresses). And Memorial Day weekend may be timed with the kickoff to summer, but more importantly it is a time to remember those who died, either in battle or on the homefront, to protect their own and future generations.
The poppy became a symbol of remembrance for soldiers during World War I (a/k/a “The Great War” because no one at the time thought there’d ever be another so terrible). The bright flowers bloomed from the battlefields of the Western Front, a frequent sight—and later a distinctive memory—for soldiers enduring the horrors of war. In the day the poppies also inspired the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt.Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Today there is a USAA Poppy Wall of Honor at the National Mall in Washington with more than 645,000 flowers, each honoring a fallen servicemember since Word War I. But here is the one from my car:
As a kid I never knew, until I was much older, why my Navy-vet dad (born 1918) kept a bright red, paper poppy wired to the visor of his car. He never mentioned it, but quietly replaced it with a new one every year. Well into his nineties, he continued to buy them while chatting with fellow veterans from the American Legion seated at folding tables outside the Publix grocery store. When he passed away, I found loads of paper poppies in his desk, which now belongs to me. But every year I buy still more, and in each of our families’ vehicles, there is always a bright red poppy representing.
So far, just like the previous 2 years, 2022 has been tough for many of us, and nearly unbearable for others. Somehow, we all need to hold on to some kind of hope while also not forgetting the pain. For me personally, it’s time to select this year’s fresh new poppy from my desk drawer–and place the older, faded one from my car visor in the ever-growing bouquet with the others. Here is a parting photo featuring 2 representatives from American Legion Post 50 in Antrim, NH. The post’s first namesake was town resident William Myers, who died in France on July 18, 1918. Thanks, vets–for everything!
Readers, do you have a special way to remember those we’ve lost on Memorial Day?