Blood red poppies have been flowers of remembrance for American soldiers killed in battle since World War I. Soldiers came home bearing stories of cold barren fields transformed in the spring by fields of wild, bright red poppies. The poppy became the symbol for lives sacrificed in battle, fields covered in bright blood spilled, and also a reminder of hope, that those lives would not be lost in vain.
The earliest mention of poppies was in a war poem by physicist Lt. Col. John McCrae titled "In Flanders Fields". McCrae wrote the poem in 1915 after presiding over the funeral of a friend killed in the Second Battle of Ypres.
Growing up, we'd hold Memorial Day presentations and recite the poem. To this day, I can recite it from memory. And you could always find members of the American Legion posts and VFW posts handing them out to people in front of stores and government offices. Sadly, we've lost touch with the meaning of the red poppies and few folks understand why strangers are handing them little paper flowers. No, they aren't asking for donations. No, they aren't trying to recruit you for a cult. All they are asking is that you take the flower and remember.
The last generations who truly knew the meaning of sacrifice on the battlefield had started to die off. Participation in groups like the American Legion and VFW had started to dwindle. We now have a new generation of soldiers, families who know the pain of ultimate sacrifice, but do we still remember the way we used to? Will they?
The poem is 101 years old. And just as poignant.