Our View: Remember the purpose of poppies on Memorial Day

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More than two dozen cities claim they were the birthplace of Memorial Day, which when initiated in the 1860s was known as Decoration Day. Today, thousands of large cities and small towns across the United States celebrate the holiday on the last Monday of May with parades and cemetery services.

Many are probably familiar with the "buddy poppy" program, where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion sell small artificial red poppies outside of retail locations so buyers can wear them on shirt pockets and lapels.

But are you familiar with how that tradition started?

Inspired by the poem "In Flanders Field" in 1915, Moina Michael composed a poem which mentions a poppy being the color of blood spilled on the battlefield. She conceived the idea of wearing artificial red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of the war dead. She sold them to friends and co-workers, with the money going to servicemen in need.

Later, a French woman learned of the custom begun by Ms. Michael and made artificial red poppies to raise money for war-orphaned children and widowed women. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies to benefit war orphans in France and Belgium.

When the league disbanded, the French woman approached the VFW for help, and before Memorial Day 1922, the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later, the VFW's "buddy poppy" program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

As we prepare to again remember those Americans fallen in battle, buy a buddy poppy if you have the opportunity and remember these words penned by Ms. Michael in her poem:

"We cherish too, the poppy red

That grows on fields were valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies."

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