The origin of the poppy
On Veterans Day Nov. 11, we honor and celebrate American veterans.
At this year's Veterans Day service at Pequot Lakes High School, veterans will be honored and celebrated using the symbol of the poppy. Although most have heard the poem "In Flanders Fields" and have seen poppies handed out surrounding Memorial Day, not all are familiar with the story and history of how the poppy came to symbolize the sacrifice and achievement of fallen soldiers.
Moina Michael was a well-mannered and well-off school teacher on vacation in Europe at the start of World War I. Although her vacation had been interrupted, she helped thousands of stranded Americans find their way back home. As America entered the war, she continued her service through the YMCA Overseas War Workers.
On Nov. 9, 1919, right before the armistice (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), Moina was on duty where service members said goodbye to their loved ones. As she sat, a soldier came and handed her a copy of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Col. John McCrae enclosed in a magazine. Moina, along with millions of other Americans, fell in love with this poem, especially the last stanza:
"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."
In her memoirs, Moina wrote, "It seemed as though the silent voices again were vocal, whispering, in sighs of anxiety unto anguish ... I pledged to KEEP THE FAITH and always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and the emblem of 'keeping the faith with all who died.'"
In response to this excerpt from "In Flanders Fields," Moina wrote her own poem "We Shall Keep the Faith." In the last stanza we hear her inspiration wearing a poppy in honor of the fallen:
"And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields."
For the rest of her life, Moina wore and distributed poppies as symbols of the bloodshed and sacrifice of fallen American soldiers. Today, the American Legion and VFW lead the American public in this time-honored tradition.
On Nov. 11, please take time to reflect on the significance and symbol of the poppy and honor America's veterans who have made and continue to make sacrifices.
Elise Sopelle is Miss Poppy 2017 through the American Legion Auxiliary. The Miss Poppy program is a youth development program with an emphasis on volunteering, civics and educating the public about the significance of the poppy and veterans affairs. Sopelle is a homeschooled junior and the 2017 American Legion Oratorical State champion.