Veterans Day is an official United States holiday that honors people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, also known as veterans. It coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world and also mark the anniversary of the end of World War I (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect).
Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.
The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields“. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I. Their brilliant red colour is a symbol for the blood spilled in the war. Poppies start dotting north americans lapels every year on the last Friday in October. But do you know when we started wearing them, or why? Here are more fast facts about poppies:
Inspired by Canadian John McCrae’s famous poem In Flanders Fields and its poppy imagery, an American professor, Moina Michael, penned a poem in response in 1918 entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith“. While teaching disabled soldiers after the war, she came up with the idea of wearing poppies as symbols of remembrance.
She wore one at a conference in Paris in 1920 and distributed some to others in attendance. One of those attendees, a Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin, copied the idea and created artificial poppies of her own to sell in London in 1921. That year, the symbol was adopted by the founder of the Royal British Legion and commander of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War, Field Marshal Douglas Haig.
The Great War Veteran’s Association in Canada, the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Legion, followed suit in the same year as did other veterans in groups in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
When the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled at the National War Memorial in Ottawa in 2000 on Remembrance Day, many of those in attendance laid their poppies on the tomb at the end of the ceremony in a gesture of honor, sparking a new tradition that has spread to other communities elsewhere in Canada where people leave them at the base of local monuments or pinned to memorial wreaths.
Contrary to popular urban legend, the stick pin attached to the poppy isn’t about pricking yourself to remember soldiers’ pain. Instead, Bill Maxwell, senior program officer with the Royal Canadian Legion, said it’s about ease of production and distribution.
It did. The Legion opted in 2002 to switch to black to better reflect what real poppies actually look like.
Give generously when you grab a poppy: the money supports everything from job placement programs for returning soldiers from Afghanistan and now Iraq to retrofitting legion buildings so they’re wheelchair accessible. The legion helps fund drop-in centers for aging veterans, transportation, cadet programs and even medical research.
To learn more or to view the video on how to properly pin your poppy, click here.