The "Flower of Remembrance"

Babe Ruth presenting President Warren G. Harding with
the first official Buddy Poppy of 1923.

This Memorial Day, May 27, will mark the 90th year that the VFW has distributed the Buddy Poppy—the Flower of Remembrance. The Poppies are assembled by needy and disabled veterans and distributed on Memorial Day to help raise funds for the VFW.

To commemorate this milestone, we’re taking a look back at the history of the VFW’s official memorial flower.

In 1915, Col. John McCrae penned a poem called “In Flanders Fields.” It was this piece of literature that made the poppy a symbol of freedom and remembrance:

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.

In 1920, in Paris, Anna E. Guerin and a group of volunteers created bright red artificial poppies, which they distributed to raise funds for French orphans and others made destitute by the war.

In 1922, Guerin approached the VFW with the idea. The Poppy was well received, and the VFW began its first distribution of poppies made in France. As the demand for the flowers exploded, florists in New York picked up the slack.

At the VFW’s 1923 National Convention, it was decided that disabled veterans would assemble the poppies, and a factory was set up in Pittsburgh for that purpose.

At the time, Doughboys, Marines and sailors called their friends “Buddy”—hence the name, “Buddy Poppy.” In 1924, the assembly and distribution of Poppies spread to regions all across the country.

The Buddy Poppy has been extremely popular since its inception. Many American presidents had the Poppies pinned to their jackets by girls from the National Home. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood icons like Doris Day, Natalie Wood and Jane Wyman became “Buddy Poppy Girls,” bringing tremendous publicity and prestige to the program.

Today, the distribution of Buddy Poppies remains a staple of the VFW’s Memorial Day activities. More than 896 million Buddy Poppies have been distributed since the VFW began keeping records in 1942.

As VFW National Commander John E. Hamilton said, “The Buddy Poppy is an enduring symbol of remembrance for our comrades who never made it off the battlefield. The program is in a unique position to help disabled veterans in VA hospitals and veterans homes, while expanding the reach of VFW programs. ”

Visit http://www.vfw.org/Community/Buddy-Poppy/ to learn more.

For a closer look at the history of the VFW and the Buddy Poppy, check out the book VFW: Our First Century.

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