May is the month for poppies in the U.S.A. These simple, red flowers represent so much passion and emotion that I often marvel at their worldwide impact. Millions of members and supporters of veteran organizations like the American Legion and the VFW distribute handmade paper poppies in the lead up to Memorial Day (the last Monday in May was declared a U.S. federal holiday in 1971).
For almost 100 years, the poppy has been a powerful symbol of remembrance, respect and honor for military veterans in the UK, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
For many, the red poppy represents sacrifices made in the defense of freedom.
For me, the month of May is a time of solemn tributes and memorial services for veterans who have lost their lives while serving their country and more personally, for my father, who passed away on May 2, 2003.
Fifteen years ago this month, I gave an impassioned speech at the Austin Toastmasters club titled “In Flanders Fields”. I opened with a recitation of the powerful World War I poem by Canadian Lt Col. John McCrae and told stories of how important the red poppy and the solemn Memorial Day traditions are to me and my family.
This year I share an excerpt of the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” written by an American woman named Moina Michael in 1918.
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,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
In keeping with the spirit of this poem and the opening thoughts of this article, below is a portion the First Vice Commander report I submitted for my American Legion Post’s newsletter.
“Across the country, May is an important month of remembrance which culminates in the Memorial Day holiday and tribute ceremonies. American Legion Post 64 continued with its annual tradition of holding an Honor and Remembrance Service during our May 17th member meeting. This year we rang the bell and called out the names of ten post and auxiliary members who passed away in the last year. This experience was especially impactful for me, since I participated in an honor guard ceremony and penned tribute articles for three of the deceased veterans. It was a simple, solemn and touching ceremony that gave our fellow legionnaires and auxiliary members the honor and respect they deserve. The meeting room was tastefully set up with a remembrance table of photos, programs and red roses for the family and friends of the deceased. In front of the lectern was an honor table with a beautiful wrought iron cross, candles, a Bible, a Koran and a yarmulke. Red poppies stood out brilliantly against the white tablecloth and added the strong and significant symbol of loss, sacrifice and hope.”