What we learn by heart...There was a time when our parents and teachers would expect us to learn things "by heart." Remember? We might be asked to learn a poem or a song, our multiplication tables (because we didn't have hand held calculators or smartphones to quickly check the answer to 6 X 12), the Pledge of Allegiance, our National Anthem, traveling directions, peoples' addresses and phone numbers. Another way to define "by heart" is "by rote." Rote is an interesting word, but perhaps the most fitting when it comes to discussing days like Memorial Day: by rote, from memory, without thought of the meaning; in a mechanical way. There is so much more to Memorial Day, beyond what we have learned by heart. So today we thought we would share just a bit more of the history of this day, including why poppies come to mind for those celebrating the lives fallen for our freedom.
In Flanders Field the poppies blow100 years ago this month, May 3, 1915, serving in World War I a Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the following poem after presiding at the funeral of a fellow soldier.
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.You see McCrae noticed that for some reason poppies will grow even in a field serving as a graveyard; in fact historically we learned that dating back to the Napoleonic Wars [1803-1815] a poet reflected on poppies growing among the graves (according to Wikipedia: "...a writer of that time first noted how the poppies grew over the graves of soldiers. The damage done to the landscape in Flanders during the battle greatly increased the lime content in the surface soil, leaving the poppy as one of the few plants able to grow in the region." It was just a few years later at the end of World War I when Moina Michael, an American professor, read "In Flanders Field" and determined she would wear a red poppy each day to remember the soldiers who had died in WWI. She worked tirelessly with others and convinced the American Legion to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. According the American Legion's website:
The Auxiliary Poppy Program has been a staple of the organization since the Legion’s 1925 National Convention when Resolution 534 was adopted, giving the Auxiliary complete charge of the program. But it is imperative to remember that the Poppy Program is an American Legion Family event where both Legion posts and Sons of The American Legion squadrons are encouraged to partner with their local Auxiliary unit to organize and promote the program, as well as distribute poppies for donations. Auxiliary Unit 291 in Newport Beach, Calif., recently raised $14,000 for its poppy program by mailing donation envelopes with poppies in them to all 6,000 unit, post and squadron members. The yearly mailing “is an opportunity to make a donation via the mail since not all members are able to attend meetings or events,” said Margaret Myles, Unit 291 president. “The purpose (of the poppy) is to remind our members the reason why we are The American Legion, and to honor those who have served, those who are currently serving and most importantly, those who have lost their lives in the line of service to our nation.”