This year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official Veterans Day poster commemorates the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I and prominently features one of the war’s most famous symbols: the blood-red poppy.
The association of the poppy with World War I comes from Canadian John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which describes poppies growing over makeshift graves on the battlefields of war-torn Belgium. However, many people don’t realize that without the efforts of American professor, Moina Michael, the poppy wouldn’t have become the well-known symbol honoring war veterans that it is today.
Michael first read McCrae’s poem only days before the armistice on November 11, 1918. She was especially moved by the poem’s final lines: “If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.” Determined not to “break faith” with the soldiers who lost their lives, Michael made a vow to wear a red poppy year-round to commemorate the war and honor those who served.
After the war, Michael started teaching classes for disabled veterans and soon realized that many former servicemen were in need of financial support and employment opportunities. She began a letter-writing campaign advocating that artificial poppies be sold and distributed to raise funds for veterans. Making poppies also provided work to veterans with disabilities hindering them from finding jobs.
Because of her work on behalf of veterans, Michael became a national hero affectionately known as “The Poppy Lady.” Her efforts led the American Legion to adopt the poppy as its memorial symbol. Today, the poppy is internationally recognized as a symbol of World War I remembrance and serves as a tribute to war veterans.