The Meaning of the Poppy and Armistice Day

“In Flanders Fields”
by John McCrae
May, 1915

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.

The poem above, “In Flanders Field,” was written by John McCrae in May of 1915 shortly after he conducted the burial ceremony of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who died when an artillery shell landed near him during the second battle of Ypres. When the author says, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow,” what does that mean? Fought between 1914 and 1918, World War I battles in France and Belgium destroyed the land in and around those battlefields. With the number of war dead internments into the fields of Flanders, the lime content of the soil had increased. The first flower to bloom in those fields was the blood-red Poppy and shortly after “The Great War,” the Poppy became the official flower of remembrance of the war dead from Great Britain, France, and the United States. In Great Britain, the tradition of the Red Poppy as a remembrance flower of the war dead of the country continues today.

On November 11 at 11:00 am in 1918, the Armistice ending World War I went into effect and so began the remembrances of Armistice Day in all the victorious allied nations. November 11, 1919 was announced as the first remembrance of Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson when he stated, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

In 1926, the Congress of the United States announced in a proclamation that recognized the ending of World War I and declared November 11 as the day of remembrance. In 1938, the official Armistice Day holiday became law and honored all veterans of the Great War. Until 1954, the day recognized only those from World War I, but the architect of the European victory in World War II and President, General Dwight Eisenhower pushed through Congress that November 11 would be the date to recognize veterans of all United States conflicts.

Veterans Day Ceremonies throughout the country commemorate and recognize all those men and women who at some point pledged their lives to the defense of the United States and served in the nation’s armed forces. November 11, 1918, the date ending the bloodiest conflict in world history until that time has now become a day of honor. Veterans Day recognizes all those who have worn the uniform of service and Memorial Day acknowledges all those who made the supreme sacrifice in defense of the nation.

The Constitution spells out many rights we as Americans hold dear and the men and women in uniform help us maintain the rights and the privileges guaranteed in it. November 11 only comes one time a year, but I propose we honor and remember those who volunteer their time and their energy to our protection any time we meet them. For through their sacrifice of service, they continue to give us the gifts of liberty and freedom that allow us to honor or protest the good, the bad, and the ugly of America in the 21st Century. For all veterans, the author says, “Thank you all for your service and your sacrifice.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.