During a trip through a store recently I found it necessary to wind my way around cases of beer stacked in the aisle. It didn’t take long to recognize this was part of society’s preparation for yet another Memorial Day. I’m not a member of the Temperance Union, so I do not see this as a bad thing.
The day was actually filled with reminders. There was the obligatory stop to deposit a donation in a volunteer fireman’s boot… the need to slow and swerve around the work crews installing flags on the utility poles throughout towns in the area… and the buzzing of lawn mowers and trimmers when driving by cemeteries.
There’s a lot to love about Memorial Day, really. A memorial is most typically an object, designed to focus memory of something—a person or an event. Memorial Day is meant to remind us of the people who died while serving in the armed forces. Wikipedia puts that number at approximately 1,354,000 for all wars. That is a sobering statistic and a lot of remembering.
But these are not just faceless numbers and names, either. Little effort is required to see them, even if only in our minds and hearts.
An admirable characteristic of our society is that we are willing to memorialize these men and women. We do so in many ways—from granite monuments to parades and ceremonies, we do remember.
One Memorial Day reminder that I haven’t had yet this year is my annual purchase of a poppy. I have past purchases scattered around, attached to jackets, and the lamp beside the bed. I could probably find one in my jewelry box. But it’s the act of purchasing that is important, perhaps because I get to see a face and shake hands with someone who served. I fear this is a fading tradition, even as we celebrate its 100th anniversary. In 1915, Moina Michael came up with the idea of wearing a red poppy in honor of those who died in war. She also sold poppies to friends and coworkers with the proceeds going to benefit servicemen in need.
The program was adopted by the VFW in 1922 and became both a source of income and an important memorial. Most are at least casually familiar with the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Few are aware that it was the inspiration for Moina’s own poem and her poppy program.
We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
While we are willing to memorialize these men and woman, I think Moina understood an important truth. If we were not willing to march or watch… if we were not willing to purchase and hang flags throughout our communities… if we did not visit cemeteries and erect monuments… (all important things we should do)… there are still undeniable signals—some as simple as a red poppy—to remind us that the blood of heroes never dies.
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.