Originally known as Decoration Day, from the practice of strewing flowers on the graves of those fallen in the Civil War, by the turn of the 20th century, this day of observance had become known as Memorial Day.
Days before the armistice for World War I was signed, a Georgia woman named Moina Michael, who was serving at the training headquarters for overseas YMCA workers at Columbia University in New York, read John McRae's poem in which the poppies of Flanders figures prominently.
Moved by the poem, she that very day purchased several silk poppies and began to wear one and encouraged her friends to do so likewise, in memory of those fallen in the Great War.
She also taught a class of disabled veterans when back at the University of Georgia, and began to spread the idea of selling poppies as a way of raising money for the rehabilitation, training and care of disabled veterans.
At the same time, Memorial Day was beginning to be observed as a day of remembering those who had given their lives in all wars, and not just the Civil War.
By the early 1920s, the American Legion had adopted the poppy project, naming it the Buddy Poppy, and sold the handmade flowers on Memorial Day. This is the origin of the poppies now offered by many different veterans' organizations which we buy at events in which veterans participate. Observers of the day would pledge to aid not only disabled veterans, but also the widows (and later, widowers) and orphans of the fallend.
By the time of Moina Michael's death in 1944, over $200 million had been raised through the sale of Buddy Poppies. She was honored in 1948 by the Post Office with the issuance of a 3-cent commemorative stamp.
People often forget that John McRae was a Canadian. He was a physician and fought on the Western Front in 1914. He was eventually transferred to the medical corps and served at a hospital in France, where he died of pneumonia in 1918. His poem, known both as "In Flanders Fields" and "We shall not sleep" was probably the best-known poem from the Great War.
In Flanders FieldsIn 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.
Saturday: Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Beliefnet's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day
The Buddy Poppy: "Moina Michael adopted poppy to memorialize soldiers"
Moina Michael Stamp: "3-cent commemorative stamp honoring Moina Michael"