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Poppy Day,
Memorial Day

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

Early this month I was privileged to sign a proclamation urging Lawrence Countians to support “National Poppy Day,” when American Legion Auxiliary members will hand out tiny replicas of that flower and receive donations to support veterans and their families.

Poppy Day is celebrated in countries around the world, and was brought to the U.S. by the American Legion. Congress designated the Friday before Memorial Day (May 26 this year) as the time to support veterans who are still with us, and honor those who died in the line of service.

Why a poppy? On the devastated battlefields of Europe in World War I, red poppies were often the first vegetation to regrow. A surgeon for an Allied artillery unit spotted a clump of the flowers growing at Ypres, where the Germans had used poisonous chlorine gas and 87,000 Allied soldiers had been killed, hurt, or were missing. The Germans lost 37,000. 

The surgeon was inspired and wrote “In Flanders Field,” channeling the voices of soldiers who lay beneath the poppies. It reads in part,

“In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place . . .
“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….”
It gives me chills.

On Monday, May 29, we celebrate Memorial Day. Unlike Veterans Day, when we honor ALL veterans, Memorial Day is set aside to recognize those who died while serving.

It will come as no surprise that the holiday was originally known as Decoration Day. Many of us carry on the tradition of decorating the graves of loved ones during May, but its intent all along was to honor fallen soldiers.

General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day or remembrance in 1868.

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died . . . and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971.

David Morgan

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