Connecting the visual image of the poppy with the sacrifice of service made by our veterans has been an important goal of the American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program since its inception in 1921. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, millions of red crepe paper poppies—all handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation—are distributed across the country in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities.The Poppy Program raises community awareness and respect for our veterans by educating Auxiliary members and the public about the symbol of the poppy, taken from a line in the poem “In Flanders Fields” written on the battlefront during World War I by Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D.
To elevate community awareness and respect for our veterans by educating our membership and the public about the poppy's significance and the financial benefit realized by our nation's veterans as a result of its distribution.
Poppy Days have become a familiar tradition in almost every American community. This distribution of the bright red memorial flower to the public is one of the oldest and most widely recognized programs of the American Legion Auxiliary.
From the battlefields of World War I, weary soldiers brought home the memory of a barren landscape transformed by wild poppies, red as the blood that had soaked the soil. By that miracle of nature, the spirit of their lost comrades lived on.
The poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war and represented the hope that none had died in vain. The American Legion Auxiliary poppy has continued to bloom for the casualties of four wars, its petals of paper bound together for veterans by veterans, reminding America each year that the men and women who have served and died for their country deserve to be remembered.
The poppy, as a memorial flower to the war dead, can be traced to a single individual, Moina Michael. She was so moved by Lt. Col. McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," that she wrote a response:
. . . the blood of heroes never dies But lends a luster to the red Of the flower that blooms above the dead In Flanders' Fields. On impulse, she bought a bouquet of poppies – all that New York City's Wanamaker's Department Store had – and handed them to businessmen meeting at the New York YMCA where she worked. She asked them to wear the poppy as a tribute to the fallen. That was November 1918. World War I was over, but America's sons would rest forever "in Flanders' Fields." Later she would spearhead a campaign that would result in the adoption of the poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice.
"In Flanders Fields" is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died during the Second Battle of Ypres.
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.
–Lt. Col. John McCrae
The financial benefit realized by our nation’s veterans as a result of poppy distribution is huge; nearly 3.5 million poppies were distributed by units last year, raising $2.1 million. Children are involved in spreading the poppy message, too. Poppy Poster Contests are held in local schools for students in grades 2 to 12. The Miss Poppy Contest is a fun event for Junior Auxiliary members who develop local programs to promote the Auxiliary memorial poppy.Meeting the continuing needs of our veterans should be the concern of every American who values his or her freedom. The Auxiliary promotes the poppy as a symbol of the sacrifices our military have made, a symbol to open people’s hearts and inspire them to donate.
Download 2012-2013 Poppy Plan of Action (pdf)
Download the story of Moina Michael, the woman who popularized the Poppy Program (pdf)
"Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in."—Marjorie Moore, Belleville, Ill.