Marshall and Poppies

Sec. of Def. George C. Marshall receives buddy poppy from Mrs. Genevieve Frye, Pres. of the Auxiliary of American Legion Post 109, May 24, 1951

In the photo to the left, Secretary of Defense Marshall is receiving a poppy from Mrs. Genevieve Frye, President of the Auxiliary of American Legion Post 109 in 1951. The remembrance poppy is an artificial flower that has been used since 1921 to commemorate military personnel who have died in war, and represents a common or field poppy, Papaver rhoeas. They were first adopted by the American Legion to commemorate American soldiers killed in World War I.

The field poppy blooms in springtime and were first apparent in the spring of 1915 in the battlefields of France and Belgium. They were particularly apparent in the Dutch-speaking part of northern Belgium, Flanders, a site of some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting on the western front for World War I.

Their color is blood red and gave the impression that the battlefield was stained, quite literally, with blood of the thousands of soldiers who died on the fields. This phenomenon was noticed by a Canadian medical officer named John McCrea. McCrea saw action early on in WWI at the second battle for the Belgian town of Ypres. His friend had been killed and in response he penned the famous poem, In Flanders Fields:

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.

Although McCrea’s famous poem has a suitably reverential tone, the final stanza urges those who live on to keep fighting:

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.

As part of the Marshall Legacy Series, the Marshall Foundation is hosting a Poppy Painting Party on February 25th. Attendees will learn a bit more history about the poppy and World War I and be guided to paint their own creative masterpiece. There’s no experience necessary! The $35 ticket includes everything you will need: canvas, paints, brushes and of course snacks and drinks. Space is limited. A maximum of 30 spots are available and reservations and advanced payment are required and can be made online.