Red Poppies

I’m turning 30 this week.

As always, I get to share my Nov. 11 birthday with all members of the military, who we honor on Veterans Day.

Supposedly, Memorial Day is supposed to memorialized deceased veterans and Veterans Day is for the living, but I prefer to remember both groups on both holidays.

We used to call Veterans Day “Armistice Day,” and it was a holiday specifically for veterans of World War I.

We never spent much time on World War I when I was in school. When I think of World War I, I generally think of trench warfare, gas attacks and those odd-looking helmets with the funny brims our soldiers wore.

Sometimes I remember the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, who shot down 80 planes during that war before he was killed by a bullet, likely fired by somebody on the ground.

This Veterans Day, I will be thinking about poppies.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars often hand out small paper or plastic poppies in honor of all veterans. They’re pretty, bright little things, but I never gave them much thought. The custom had obviously been around for a long time, given that poppies made it into a Beatles song, “Penny Lane.”

The poppies are corn poppies, a common and attractive weed native to Europe whose seeds can survive in the soil for a long time, growing when that soil is disturbed.

During World War I, quite a bit of soil was disturbed, and the opportunistic poppies seized their chance to grow, blossoming between trenches and in fields between them, where bullets plowed the land and soldiers’ blood watered the little red flowers.

One famous poem from World War I, “In Flanders Fields,” ends “If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”

It happened again during World War II — there was fighting, the ground was disturbed, and poppies sprung up.

Poppies became the flower of remembrance in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some other European countries.

In America, poppies are usually more of a Memorial Day thing, in keeping with the theme of honoring deceased veterans then and the living on Veterans Day, but this year I will look for a red poppy on Veterans Day.

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