Memorial Day: The story of the Poppy


May 24, 2024

The Story of the Poppy & it’s association with Memorial Day


As I sit at my desk reflecting on what to blog about as Memorial Day approaches, I thought I’d take some time and briefly discuss Memorial Day itself. Please indulge me by reading this as it’s not a typical blog that is industry focused or thematic, rather my humble observations.

Every year at this time, when I approach some  stop lights or signs while in my car, I’ll come upon someone, usually an elderly man wearing a military cap of some sort, standing humbly in the middle section of the two opposing streets proudly holding a red artificial flower in his hand. He looks at each driver and smiles, sometimes approaching a car as he’s invited by the driver to do so. When he leans in, he exchanges the red flower for some money and then he smiles, waves, and some even bow as the driver passes on by. Not all drivers give the same monetary value, but all give a grateful smile to a man who proudly deposits the money in donation containers.


What is the flower? A red poppy; a simple beautiful flower that is so red & delicate it’s almost mesmerizing to me. I always associated Memorial Day with the red poppy and older gentlemen gently smiling and waving to passersby. And, many times I’ve thought “why the poppy? Why on Memorial Day?” So, I did a little digging (no pun intended).


The red poppy is symbolic to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during Word War 1, in Belgium. Up until World War 1, the red poppy often laid dormant in a place called Flander’s Field in Waregem, West Flanders, Belgium. The spent artillery shells which populated the field during an intense battle, along with the bodies of fallen soldiers churned up the soil and brought the poppy flower out of dormancy and back to life with a deep, beautiful red hue. [It’s humbling to me to think the end of one life brings life to something else.]


On September 27, 1920, this beautifully red flower became the official flower of The American Legion organization to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. Then, in 1924 the poppies became part of the national program by The American Legion. Further ensconcing the flower in History is contributed to Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor & surgeon during the war who wrote a poem of the red poppy after losing friends who fought in Ypres  West Flanders, Belgium and after he saw the deep red poppies populating Flander’s Field.  He wrote,


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.



So, as you drive around this Friday wherever you may be in the USA and come upon an elderly gentleman standing near an intersection, wearing military headwear and a friendly smile, please remember why he’s there: honoring his fallen brothers in arm, continuing to serve and sacrifice, selling a beautifully red flower that found life in the fallen soldiers. If you choose not to donate, then please at least take a moment to thank him and his fellow soldiers who sacrificed so much to cover us in this country with a blanket of freedoms.


To the many who served, sacrificing some and to the some who sacrificed everything,




Happy Memorial Day!

….from your friends at RBD









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