Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
The red poppy has been a symbol of the Auxiliary since the 1920s. The flower is held near and dear to the hearts of our veterans because of what it represents and because the veterans make the crepe paper flowers to help them with their rehabilitation. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Auxiliary members are spotted distributing poppies to the public in exchange for donations. The money that is donated helps provide financial assistance to veterans.
"The poppy is about the men and women who served this country," said Diane Kelly, National Poppy Chairman. "Being in wartime now, men and women sacrifice so much for the United States. It is a way to say thank you."
The story of the poppy begins long before the Auxiliary adopted the flower as a way to help veterans. The story began during World War I when a doctor and soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae of the Canadian army, found out a friend of his died in battle. McCrae wrote one of the most famous war poems, In Flanders Fields, to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
Every Year, around Memorial Day, services are held in Flanders Fields to honor the more than 360 American servicemen buried in Waregem, Belgium. Some of the bloodiest battles of WWI took place in the areas of northern France and southwest Belgium known as Flanders. The British front line was determined to keep the Germans from traversing Flanders and the Ypres River Valley to reach the port of Calais in France. Troops from both sides were were holed up in the Ypres salient, an outward projection of the battle line. Defending British troops were vulnerable on three sides; therefore this was a bloody and dangerous place for a soldier to be.
The destruction from the battles in this area reached beyond the battlefield to the towns and roads of the area, and led to the demolition of buildings, roads and all plant life, leaving only mud. But the dormant poppy seeds were now exposed after the burial of the dead soldiers and in the spirit of 1915, red poppies flourished in Flanders Fields covering the newly dug graves.
"When you give a poppy, you have the opportunity to tell the poppy story and raise awareness about our veterans and the Auxiliary," said Mary Davis, Past National Poppy Chairman. While the main distribution of poppies remains on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Auxiliary members can work year round to educate their communities, especially youth, with the poppy story. "The poppy story provides the Auxiliary an opportunity to instill the significance of the flower, who veterans are, and the importance of the work our veterans do," said Davis.