Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

At 3PM today, we’re asked to take a moment and reflect in silence on the men and women who gave their lives for our country in so many wars.

When the rain stops, I’ll put the family’s American Flag out. Go up to the corner store, where I’ll likely find a red paper poppy for sale. On Memorial Day in the United States, and Great Britain’s, Canada’s and Australia’s Remembrance Day, it used to be quite common to wear a paper or cloth poppy as a lapel pin.

Just as World War I ended, Moina Belle Michael thought to wear real red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving America during war. She got the idea from a poem she’d read, “In Flanders Field.” She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers. The money went to benefit servicemen in need.

A Frenchwoman, Madame E Guérin, was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. The tradition spread to other countries.

In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the American Veterans of Foreign Wars for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later its
Buddy Poppy Program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

Michael was a countrywoman of mine, born near Good Hope, GA, in 1869. Her daddy was a veteran of the Civil War, serving with the Confederate States Army in some of the largest and most important actions of the war. She grew up with the effects of war on her own family, in her own backyard.

She attended Lucy Cobb Institute and the Georgia State Teachers College, both in Athens, and Columbia University. In later life she had become one of Georgia’s outstanding educators. She died on 10 May 1944.

On 9 November 1948, the US Post Office held first-day-of-issue ceremonies in Athens, Ga. for a 3¢ commemorative stamp honoring Michael. The stamp’s release came on the 30th anniversary of the day she conceived of the idea of selling poppies to help care for disabled soldiers and their families.

After his World War II service, my father-in-law Sam Slavik, USCG, became an active member of the VFW. (My daddy, Paul Hirsch Baron, USAAF, wasn’t such a joiner.) My mother-in-law, Rosemary Slavik, spent years in the VFW Ladies Auxiliary and she was still making red paper poppies for her post until she retired.

The 3¢ stamp is long gone but the paper poppies remain. It’s a remembrance that hardly costs more than a passing thought. It’s worth so much more.

1 comment:

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Some Remarks by the President at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Commemoration 28 May 2007):

"For seven generations, we have carried our fallen to these fields. Here rest some 360,000 Americans who died fighting to preserve the Union and end slavery. Here rest some 500,000 Americans who perished in two world wars to conquer tyrannies and build free nations from their ruins. Here rest some 90,000 Americans who gave their lives to confront Communist aggression in places such as Korea and Vietnam.

"Many names here are known: the 18-year-old Union soldier named Arthur MacArthur, who grabbed a falling flag and carried it up Missionary Ridge; the Tuskegee Airmen who defended America abroad and challenged prejudice at home; the slain war hero and President who asked that we 'assure the survival and success of liberty' and found his rest beneath an eternal flame. Still others here are remembered only by loving families. Some are known only to God.

"Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes - men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi. Like those who came before them, they did not want war - but they answered the call when it came. They believed in something larger than themselves. They fought for our country, and our country unites to mourn them as one."