The Other Memorial Day Tradition

Ask anyone about commemorating Memorial Day, and you'll likely hear about visits to veteran's hospitals and the touching placement of flags by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at every one of the more than 220,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

Yet there's another, somewhat lesser known, way of marking the holiday: wearing and displaying red poppies.

Poppies represent blood spilled in a notorious World War I battle, an image used in the famous 1915 poem "In Flanders Fields," by a Canadian soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae.

            In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
            Between the crosses, row on row

Inspired by the work, New Yorker Moina Michael began distributing red poppies as a memorial flower in 1918, together with a poem she wrote in response to McCrae's:

            We cherish too, the Poppy red
            That grows on fields where valor led,
            It seems to signal to the skies
            That blood of heroes never dies

A few years later, veterans began making artificial red poppies at the "Buddy" Poppy factory in Pittsburgh, Pa. The tradition was embraced by the American Legion Auxiliary and Veterans of Foreign Wars and it eventually migrated to France, England and other Commonwealth nations where the poppy has grown into a powerful motif in honor of those lost in battle.

So this Memorial Day, consider doing something a little different. Along with an American flag, display red poppies – real or not. You'll be commemorating men and women killed fighting for our country – and honoring a very real, if somewhat forgotten, American tradition.

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