Memorial Day poppies and the woman who launched a movement

Every Memorial Day, when I run into the grocery store to pick up those last minute items for the three day weekend’s picnic, I’m met with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) selling their poppies.

We cherish, too, the poppy red/ that grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies/that blood of heroes never dies

-- “We Shall Keep the Faith” by Moina Michael

I remember as a kid that it was very common to see paper poppies being sold around Memorial Day. You could even go to the post office and purchase one for a donation.

They were fun things to buy and twist around a purse strap or a button but I didn’t know what they meant until I came across the poem by Moina Michael that launched the movement.


An educator and humanitarian, Moina Michael was a part of the generation that lived through World War I.  The casualties of this war were spectacular. Eight million soldiers died.  Twenty-one million were wounded.  This was warfare on a scale we had never known before.

Like many of her time, Michael was touched by Colonel John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” that described the poppies growing between the grave markers of those who had fought valiantly.

She was inspired to write her own poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” and took to wearing a memorial poppy so that she would never forget those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

However, she took her tribute a step farther.

In 1918, at the University of Georgia, she taught a class of disabled veterans and realized how much financial support these men would need in their lives.

Having worked with the YWCA, she decided to create a fundraiser. Michael and her friends began making paper poppies patterned after the one she wore and selling them for donations.

The idea of honoring disabled veterans in this manner caught on. By the time of Michael’s death in 1944, over $2 million had been raised for veterans’ programs and the purpose and spirit behind her campaign continues to this day.

The poppies are now made by disabled veterans in VA Hospitals.  They are the only people who are paid for their work with this program.

Members of the VFW and American Legion Auxiliary distribute the paper flowers around Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, both days of remembrance.

All contributions go to help veterans, their orphans and their widows.  The United States is not the only one to support the poppy program.  Poppies can be found throughout the United Kingdom as well.

So this Memorial Day, if you are offered a poppy, wear it proudly.  And when you see it on someone else, know you are in the presence of a grateful citizen.

“And now the Torch and Poppy Red -- we wear in honor of our dead. 
Fear not that ye have died for naught; We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought in Flanders Fields.”
-- “We Shall Keep the Faith” by Moina Michael