For almost 100 years red poppies have served as the flower of remembrance for Memorial Day.

A poem penned by a Canadian physician in the war fields of Belgium during World War I brought the humble wildflower poppy to prominence. Dr. John McCrae was in the thick of the battle when a friend of his was killed near his position. He supposedly wrote the poem shortly thereafter and sent it to the British magazine “Punch” where it was published in December 1915.

Thereafter poppies have been sold to raise funds for services for veterans throughout Britain, the U.S. and Canada.

The poem is brief:

In Flanders Fields by Dr. John McCrae

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.

My wife and I lived in Belgium from 2002-2004. One way we entertained visiting friends who had an interest in history was to take them to the WWI battle ground in Ypres, where the events that inspired this poem took place.

You can still walk through some of the WWI trench fortifications there and get a feel for the terrible conditions of warfare in 1915. We also took friends to Bastogne to visit the area of the WWII Battle of the Bulge. It’s hard to visit those sites and not be moved by both the human bravery and the human suffering that took place there during two terrible wars. The red poppy is a most worthy flower to serve as a reminder of those battles.

My own impression is that we don’t see them as much as we used to, either as flowers of remembrance or as wildflowers. They are usually crimson red with a soft black center. They are easy to grow. Simply sow seed in late August or early September to let the seedlings get started before winter sets in. They will survive our winters and should bloom in May or June the following year. They scatter their own seed and should come back the following years. A small poppy patch in a sunny spot is a nice way to remember those who died to preserve our freedom.

Hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day.

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