Today is Veterans Day and Remembrance Day. Poppies are sold to raise money for needy veterans and to honor those who gave their lives for freedom.
Poppies as symbol of remembrance was forever immortalized in a poem written by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918). Born in Ontario, McCrae wrote the beloved 15-line poem In Flanders Field (1915) while stationed in Flanders, Belgium during World War I.
"The torch; be yours to hold it high," he wrote.
McCrae was one of the 635,000 Canadians who enlisted. A caring artillery and medical officer, he was inspired by the Second Battle of Ypres, what he described as "17 days of Hades."
In the trenches, he watched his close friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer die of shrapnel wounds. McCrae buried his beloved friend amid poppies in a grave marked by a simple wooden cross. Deeply moved, he then wrote the vibrant poem in 20 minutes.
McCrae threw away the first draft of the poem. A fellow officer retrieved it and submitted it to several publications in England. When published in Punch magazine with a rarely-used bold type, the poem became an immediate international success, inspiring soldiers and touching the hearts of patriots at home.
Because of McCrae's inspiration, bright red poppies are still used by veterans around the world to honor and remember those who have died in wars. Millions of tiny red poppies are the living tribute and promise of remembrance for those who fight for freedom.
"And now the torch and poppy red," wrote veteran advocate Moina Michael in 1918. "Wear in honor of our dead."
Remember and honor.