WASHINGTON, May 25 — Long an international symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers, the brilliant red bloom of the poppy may soon gain wider recognition in America as the country marks its first National Poppy Day.
While Commonwealth countries such as Britain, Canada and Australia have for decades used poppies — real or manufactured — in commemorations for those killed in the line of duty, America has until now only adopted the flower on a limited basis.
This year, the American Legion, which was formed in 1919 by US veterans of World War I, is launching a US Poppy Day and hopes the vibrant flower will become better known across the country.
“We would like to see the poppy elevated,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.
“It’s just a good visual symbol of awareness of the sacrifices of veterans and a way to honour their memory.”
Time will tell if the flowers will become as common a sight in America as they are in Britain and elsewhere, where they adorn the lapels of newscasters, politicians and just about everyone else.
America’s inaugural National Poppy Day is tomorrow, three days before Memorial Day, a national US holiday in which the country recognises those killed in the armed services.
Poppy Day in other countries is synonymous with Remembrance Day, which falls on November 11, the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice that ended the fighting of World War I.
In America, November 11 marks Veterans Day, which is more geared to celebrating living vets.
Plenzler said current legislation to make Poppy Day an annual event is likely to garner broad bipartisan support, and he was confident the commemoration would soon be made official.
The blood-red poppy has been a symbol of the fallen since World War I, when the flower began to bloom in great numbers on battle fields that had been churned up by months of artillery fire.
This continual assault on the ground exposed millions of formerly dormant seeds. In the spring of 1915 warm weather saw dazzling carpets of red bursting to life across the charnel fighting grounds.
The sight was immortalised by In Flanders Fields, a poem by Canadian soldier and physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row,” his classic work opens.
Plenzler said the American Legion has been using the poppy as its official flower since 1920, and distributing fabric versions through its national network since 1924.
But, with this year marking the centenary of America’s entry into World War I, the Legion hopes America will adopt the poppy on a broader scale and contribute to veterans’ causes at the same time.
The Legion is giving out metal badges depicting a little poppy, along with millions of fabric and paper versions. — AFP