This 100-year-old tradition began after the First World War (1914-1918) to honor the soldiers who died therein. Claremore’s first American Legion Post 141 (organized February 1920) took on the responsibility of selling these paper poppy tributes as a fundraiser for returning veterans (Claremore Messenger,2-10-1920).
The poem, “In Flanders’ Fields,” written by Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who died in France in 1918, on active duty during W.W.1, inspired the wearing of these sacred symbols of sacrifice on Memorial Day. Flanders’ Fields are located in southern Belgium and northwest France where thousands of valiant soldiers from the allied countries gave their lives.
“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 amidst the guns below.
We are dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt drawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe,
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high;
If ye break faith with those who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.” (Claremore Progress,7-18-1918)
A Claremore Progress article explains, “Who can read these inspired words of Lieut. John D. McCrae, unmoved? …He visualizes all the happiness, all the glory, all the sorrow that man shall ever know... It is the life story of all those heroic men… They gave their lives that civilization might not perish from the earth. They were martyrs, sacrificed by the world for a holy cause… all those men who died, died for us, for you and for me!” (CP,5-26-1921).
In the United States, May 30, 1921, people marched wearing paper poppies “made by the fingers of those little victims of devastated France, who emerged from the conflict mere wraiths of childhood… living in the war zone, who were victims of poison gas, shell shock, and their kindred ills… It was the American Legion who chose the poppy for Memorial Day, the American-Franco Children’s League who made them, and it is the patriotic men, women, and children who are asked to buy a poppy for Memorial Day, in memory of the heroes who sleep ‘over there,’ and in aid of the broken children of our glorious ally, that we may help to complete the work and keep the faith with those who died” (CP,5-26-1921).
Under the auspices of the local American Legion Post, in 1921, the poppies were offered for sale and were to be worn around town on Memorial Day, especially to the commemoration activities. The minimum price was ten cents. However, citizens were encouraged to give as much as they were able.
More than a thousand poppies were sold in Claremore on Poppy Day, in 1921. “The sale of poppies all over the United States was handled by the American Legion” that year (CP,6-2-1921).
In the ensuing years, the poppy sale tradition continued to grow and support the noble causes of the American Legion. The Claremore Progress reminded its patrons, “Everyone will be asked to wear a poppy on Memorial Day, May 30 (1922), and all proceeds of the sale will be used by the posts and department in aiding adjustment of claims of disabled men” (CP,5-25,1922).
Started over 100 years ago, this American Legion tradition continues to this day. Local American Legion posts will be receiving donations in exchange for paper poppies. Have you purchased your pretty paper poppy pin to wear this Memorial Day?