POMEROY — Veterans groups with tables of poppies could be found outside several business in Pomeroy during the week preceding Memorial Day.
Those passing by were asked if they would like to support “our veterans” by purchasing a poppy.
But why poppies? Since World War I, the red field poppy has come to be known as an internationally recognized symbol of remembrance from its association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium and France.
Legend has it that the months of April and May 1915 were unusually warm. Farmers began plowing their fields, which were close to the front lines. One of the plants that began to grow in clusters on and around the battle zones were the red field or corn poppy, a plant which is often found in or on the edges of fields where grain is grown.
The red poppies were a sharp contrast to the devastation left on the countryside by the battles.
It was said that the sight of these vibrant but delicate red flowers “growing on the shattered ground” caught the attention of Canadian soldier John McCrae. He noticed the poppies had taken root in the disturbed ground of the burials around his artillery position.
He is believed to have composed a poem following the death of a friend in May 1915, and the poem became perhaps the most famous lines written in relation to the First World War.
The origin of the red Flanders poppy as a modern-day symbol of remembrance in the United States was the inspiration of Moina Michael. She was so moved after reading the poem, she made a personal pledge to “keep the faith” and vowed to “always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance.”
Her efforts toward making the poppy a national symbol of remembrance lead to frustration, until in 1920, the Memorial Poppy was adopted by the recently founded (1919) American Legion.
According to Joanne Newsome, American Legion Auxiliary Post 39 member, all proceeds from the poppy sales stay in the county and are used to support the post’s numerous veterans programs. She said the donations are used to purchase Christmas presents for veterans in nursing home and flags placed on graves in cemeteries.
“We don’t use the money for general purposes,” she said. “We use them for programs that address specific needs, like the flags for the graves. We go to all the cemeteries that our legion is responsible for, we cover local cemeteries with flags.
“We are a presence on the street corners, but we don’t wish to be an overbearing one. We don’t question if someone does not wish to contribute, we just let them pass. And we only do this one weekend a year,” Newsome added. “And we don’t solicit, we distribute.”
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155, Ext. 2551.