Veterans Day & “In Flanders Fields”

Categories:National Holidays
Jim Bolinger
FREE SHIPPING on Orders Over $50!

Veterans Day – November 11

Honor those who have served
by flying a bright, fresh U.S. flag with pride and dignity on November 11th

A History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day honors men and women who have served in the United States armed services. It is celebrated on November 11th, the anniversary of the end of World War I (1914-1918). The end of World War I was officially at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Veterans Day was first known as Armistice Day in 1926.  It was made a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill changing the holiday to “Veterans Day” to honor all those who have served in America’s armed services.

In 1921, an unknown soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on November 11th. Every year on Veterans Day appropriate ceremonies at held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other countries also observe November 11th. Prior to 1921, England and France had buried an unknown soldier from World War I on November 11th in each of the countries “highest place of honor”. Canada, Australia and New Zealand observe November 11th as Remembrance Day to honor those who have died in war. The United Kingdom celebrates Remembrance Day on the Sunday closest to November 11th.

Associated with Veterans Day is a memorable poem titled “In Flanders Fields” which was written during World War I.  “In Flanders Fields” to this day, remains one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres Salient in the spring of 1915.

The story behind the poem:
Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War, it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood.  Major John McCrae had seen enough to last him a lifetime.

As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, Major McCrae had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans — in the Ypres Salient.

It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. McCrae later wrote of it:  “I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of those seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day, if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.”

One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station. McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.

The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l’Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. The Major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry.

In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook.

A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, and then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote,” Allinson recalled. “He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”

When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO. Allinson was moved by what he read:  “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”

In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

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.

The “Buddy Poppy”

The VFW conducted its first poppy distribution before Memorial Day in 1922, becoming the first veterans’ organization to organize a nationwide distribution. The poppy soon was adopted as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

It was during the 1923 encampment that the VFW decided that VFW Buddy Poppies be assembled by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work to provide them with some form of financial assistance.  The next year, disabled veterans at the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh assembled VFW Buddy Poppies. The designation “Buddy Poppy” was adopted at that time.

In February 1924, the VFW registered the name “Buddy Poppy” with the U.S. Patent Office. A certificate was issued on May 20, 1924, granting the VFW all trademark rights in the name of Buddy under the classification of artificial flowers. The VFW has made that trademark a guarantee that all poppies bearing that name and the VFW label are genuine products of the work of disabled and needy veterans. No other organization, firm or individual can legally use the name “Buddy” Poppy.

Today, VFW Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals.
The minimal cost of Buddy Poppies to a VFW Post provides compensation to veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation’s veterans.

[1] Source:World Book Online Reference Center &Celebrating America’s Freedoms

[1] Source:

[1] August 17, 2012,   In Flanders fields.Courtesy of Bee MacGuire,The McCrae Museum of The Guelph Museum

[1]   August 17, 2012