The Poppy Story and The American Legion And American Legion Auxiliary
A bloody battle was fought during World War I in a region called Flanders. The area in France was completely devastated. In the spring of 1919 the poppies still bloomed among the ruins and where the men had fallen in battle. The memory that the soldiers brought home was that of the poppies blooming in the field of blood. The poppy became a symbol of sacrifice of lives during the war and represented the hope that none had died in vain.
A poem was written about the battle in Flanders Fields and the Poppy by Col. John McRae in 1915.
In Flander’s fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place…
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…
One of the original Poppy supporters, Miss Moina Michael was so moved by the poem that she wrote a response:
…the blood of heroes never dies
But lends a luster to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flander’s field.
Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D.
At the National Convention of the American Legion in Cleveland on September 27-29, 1920, it was resolved to adopt the poppy as the American Legion’s Memorial Flower. The American Legion was the first national organization to adopt the poppy.
In October 1921 at the Organizing Convention of the American Legion Auxiliary, the poppy was adopted as their Memorial Flower. At that time the Auxiliary pledged 100% of the profits from the poppy distribution to be used for servicemen and servicewomen and their families.
More that 25,000,000 poppies are made by the veterans and distributed by the American Legion Auxiliary each year. With the American Legion, the S.A.L. and the Auxiliary working together as a family, the Auxiliary is able to distribute the flowers to the public in May. The weekend prior to Memorial weekend has become known as Poppy Days. The money goes to the Auxiliary to be used for the veterans in need.
Flander's Field American Cemetery & Memorial
outside of Waregem, Belgium
In November 1918, on an impulse, Miss Moina Michael bought a bouquet of poppies and handed them to some businessmen holding a meeting at the YMCA in New York where she worked. She asked them to wear the poppies as a tribute to the fallen American Soldiers. Even though World War I was over, America’s sons would rest forever in Flander’s fields.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1919, a refreshment booth was decorated with poppies. It was stripped twice of the flowers. Patriotic Americans had taken them and left contributions on the counter. Volunteers collected the money and used it for the benefit of disabled veterans.
Mrs. Mary Hanecy was a volunteer in Milwaukee that day and saw the potential for a fundraiser. She took her idea to the Milwaukee American Legion Post 1. In 1920 on the Saturday before Memorial Day, the Post distributed 50,000 poppies with the assistance of the ladies. They received donations totaling $5,000 that was used for veteran rehabilitation.
At about the same time Miss Michaels returned to her native state of Georgia. She urged the members of the American Legion to wear the poppy as a tribute to their fallen comrades. The Department of Georgia adopted the poppy as its memorial flower, replacing the daisy.
Moina Michaels stamp - issued November 1948
In 1921, Legion Posts and Auxiliary Units began to distribute the poppies across the country.
In 1924, the ability and skill of the Auxiliary was recognized by the American Legion and the responsibility for the poppy program was placed in their hands. Both, Mrs. Hanecy and Miss Michael were honored by the American Legion Auxiliary for their contribution to this program to raise money for Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation (VA&R).
The first poppies, made of silk, were made by French war widows and orphans. When the cost became too expensive, the Auxiliary had to find another way of getting them. The first American-made poppies were made by veterans in Minnesota hospitals and were made of crepe paper. Today all poppies are made by veterans in poppy shops, maintained and administered by the Auxiliary volunteers. The shops are organized in co-operation with the VA Medical Centers and other veteran facilities. The material for the poppies is furnished free by the Department in the state where the facility is located. The workers receive pay for each poppy they make.
Our poppy programs are used to help educate the public. It is also used in schools. There is a poppy contest for different age groups and awards are given. There are also artistic and window display centerpiece awards. Miss Poppy Contest awards are also given to junior Miss Poppy age 6-12 and Senior Miss poppy age 13-18. Poppies may be used as table decorations or to decorate graves and used year-round.
Some states may choose to celebrate Poppy Days in November in conjunction with Veteran’s Day. In Michigan, we celebrate the weekend prior to Memorial Day weekend.
The money donated for the poppies goes into a separate Poppy Fund. All monies raised are pledged to be used for servicemen and women and their families. In Indianapolis, Indiana on May 3-4, 1967, there was a new resolution and new guidelines were given to the Auxiliary for the use of these funds. The funds are to be used for the rehabilitation of veterans honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces after April 6, 1917. It can also be used for the welfare of their families and for certain expenses for children and youth. Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation and Field Service Programs are also included. This is one of the most important programs that we have.
Poppy Days simply say: We Remember!
If you would care to make a donation to our American Legion Auxiliary Veteran Poppy Fund mail a check or money order to:
American Legion Auxiliary Unit 459
658 Michigan St. N.E. - Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Please remark in memo: "Poppy Fund"