Little Red Flowers and Remembering Veterans
(November 12, 2009)
Poppies have long been used as a symbol of both
sleep and death: sleep because of the opium extracted from them, and
death because of their blood-red color. In Greco-Roman myths,
poppies were used as offerings to the dead. The bright scarlet color
symbolized the promise of resurrection after death. Courtesy Photo
||CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Nov. 11, 2009 -- Ever
wonder what the significance is of the little red flowers that the
Veterans of Foreign Wars hand out? What are they and what do they
mean? The answer to the first question is simple. They are poppies.
Red-flowered corn poppies.
So, what's with the poppies?
Poppies have long been used as a symbol of both sleep and death:
sleep because of the opium extracted from them, and death because of
their blood-red color. In Greco-Roman myths, poppies were used as
offerings to the dead. The bright scarlet color symbolized the
promise of resurrection after death.
One of the most poignant
symbols of the cost of World War I is the cemetery at Flanders Field
Ypres, Belgium. In the nearly 150 cemeteries in this area, row upon
row of crosses and headstones mark the graves of the some of the one
million U.S., European and Australian soldiers and civilians who
gave their lives in almost four years of combat on the salient near
Ypres. More than 54,000 crosses mark the graves of unknown dead.
Among the rows in the gardens of stone, life and resurrection spring forth in
the form of the red-flowered corn poppy, a common plant in Europe. Canadian
surgeon and soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields"
May 3, 1915, after witnessing the death of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer. |
In tribute to the opening lines of McCrae's poem, Moina Michael vowed in her
1915 poem "We Shall Keep the Faith" to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of
remembrance for those who served in the war. Thus the plant became a symbol for
the dead World War I soldiers.
Veterans groups in England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States
have adopted the red poppy as not only a symbol of remembrance of the sacrifice
of veterans who have died but of the continued sacrifice that veterans make in
service to their countries.
While serving a year in Iraq, days may seem to pass with little difference from
one to the next. We try to mark important holidays through decorations,
barbeques, picnics and concerts. These celebrations help to remind us of our
loved ones and of our rituals and normalcy back at home. Still, the significance
of holidays and celebrations may be lost in our separation from what makes them
Veterans Day is not one of those holidays. In fact, being in a combat zone
reminds us of the sacrifice and service that make this holiday so significant.
Strip away the barbeques. Get rid of the days off. Take down the red, white and
blue bunting and the patriotic parades. What do you have left? You have the
essence of this somber day. Remembrance.
What are we remembering? We remember that by the signing of the Armistice at the
11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 marking the end of World War
I, more than 20 million from over 26 countries were dead.
We are not alone in this remembrance. In many parts of the world people take a
two-minute moment of silence at 11 a.m. as a sign of respect for people who died
in the war.
When you see the simple and humble poppy, think about the sacrifice of the
veterans who have come before you and the ones that will follow. Though poppies
grow, we should not sleep. We should remain vigilant and remember.
By Army Capt. Dayna Rowden
Multinational Division South in Iraq
American Forces Press Service
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