After World War I, the poppy flourished in Europe. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. From the dirt and mud grew a beautiful red poppy. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle following the publication of the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D. while serving on the front lines.
On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.
Led by the American Legion Auxiliary, each year members of The American Legion Family distribute poppies with a request that the person receiving the flower make a donation to support the future of veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families with medical and financial needs.
Millions of American Legion Auxiliary poppies are distributed annually by ALA units, raising money for veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and their families. Children are involved in spreading the poppy message, too. Poppy Poster Contests are held in local schools for students in grades 2 to 12. The Miss Poppy Contest is a fun event for Junior Auxiliary members who develop local programs to promote the Auxiliary memorial poppy.
Meeting the continuing needs of our veterans should be the concern of every American who values his or her freedom. The Auxiliary promotes the poppy as a symbol of the sacrifices our military have made, a symbol to open people’s hearts and inspire them to donate.
Poppy Day is celebrated in countries around the world. The American Legion brought National Poppy Day® to the United States by asking Congress to designate the Friday before Memorial Day, as National Poppy Day.
On the Friday before Memorial Day, wear a red poppy to honor the fallen and support the living who have worn our nation's uniform.
"In Flanders Fields" is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died during the Second Battle of Ypres.
Actor James McEachin provides a special reading of "In Flanders Fields" at the 2017 Veterans Inaugural Ball: A Salute to Heroes.
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.
–Lt. Col. John McCrae
“I am proud to be an ALA member. Through its programs, the Auxiliary gives me the opportunity to educate myself about how to help veterans, the troops, their families, and my community,”
Maria Moss, member of ALA Unit 149, and American Legion Riders – Chapter 149, both in Las Vegas.