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Ever Wonder Where Wearing Red Poppies on Memorial Day Came From? I’ll Tell You!

Lon Martin

Sunday I had the pleasure of announcing and DJ-ing at the 33rd annual Pacific Northwest Mustang Club Show & Shine at the ‘fingernail’ in Howard Amon Park. I got my red poppy from Bob and Dick, VFW members and participants in the show. Here’s the history on this iconic Memorial Day lapel adornment:

The wearing of poppies for Memorial Day goes back nearly a century. The tradition originated from the poem “In Flanders Field” written by John McCrae in 1915.

Here’s the story from the website of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

In Flanders Fields

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 fields.


“This was the poem written by World War I Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery. It expressed McCrae’s grief over the “row on row” of graves of soldiers who had died on Flanders’ battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. The poem presented a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War. The first printed version of it reportedly was in December 1915, in the British magazine Punch.”

Women raising money for the support of war orphans and others left destitute by World War I began selling artificial red poppies because of the poem. The practice was already a tradition by 1920 and the VFW chose the red poppy as its symbol in 1922. To supply enough poppies for the holiday the VFW began opening factories where injured veterans could be employed making the poppies.

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