Memorial Day Poppies

Memorial Day Poppies
David R. Kotok
May 25, 2013



Jason Trennert (Strategas) sent me a poppy with a note about its history and the famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by John McCrae in 1915. Jason noted that poppies are worn more often in the UK and Canada than in the US. He said he “never learned or had forgotten that these were worn on Memorial Day as a remembrance of those who have died in our nation’s service.”

Thank you, Jason, for trying to bring back that noble national memory and custom. I shall wear the poppy you sent to me this Memorial Day weekend.

I remember Memorial Day when I was a kid. My father and other WWII vets would gather to decorate the graves. Colorful flags and uniforms and medals and war-vet hats bedecked these older men, whose waistlines had widened since their time in the service. We kids giggled as we watched them march.

Dad served in the Pacific in WWII. He left when I was three months old and returned after my third birthday. Mom and I lived with my grandparents on the family farm. So did my Aunt Pearl, whose husband was in Europe in the army.

I’ve read the censored letters Dad wrote to Mom. Powerful reading packed with nostalgic moments, these notes had sections cut out by a stranger whose task was to insure that the enemy wouldn’t glean information from them if they were intercepted. I think about US Army censorship of a letter from New Guinea that my father sent to my mother. That letter took many weeks to travel from the place where he wrote it to delivery at the farm.

I also have the flag Mom got as a vet’s widow when Dad died. I just went over to it. I picked it up. I turned it around. I put it back in the place where it sits in my home office.

Nostalgia has triggered some wetting of the eyes and a flood of images in the brain. Long pause.

Now I’m trying to get back to this text.

We had dinner with Sam L. last night. He is 89. Sam landed at Normandy on day 6 of the invasion. He was wounded, sent to rehab in England, and then posted back to the front again. Infantry!

Sam and I discussed the military. My time was ’66 to ’69. I was very lucky. Enough said about me.

I think of my friend Skip. He served in the ‘60s. Vietnam. He doesn’t talk about it. We’ve known each other for almost 50 years and never swapped war stories.

More nostalgia.

Another flood in the brain.

Another pause.

Damn it, Jason Trennert, you started this. You sent me a poppy. You reminded me of the days when we bought poppies on the street to help vets.

“Please buy a poppy. Help a vet” was the solicitation from a trusted and well-meaning neighbor. We said “please” in those days.

Nearly everyone said yes. The poppy was papier-mâché and attached to a small wire. You could twirl it through a buttonhole or hang it on a scarf or pin it on a hat. There was no protocol for where you wore the poppy. You just wore it. Proudly! So all could see it and know that you supported a vet. On Memorial Day, poppies were everywhere. Everybody wore one.

Jason, thank you for sending me this poppy.

I will end with a poem. It is best read aloud.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our places; 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, 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.

We wish our readers a thoughtful Memorial Day.



Memorial Day Poppies
David R. Kotok
May 25, 2013

We offer thanks to many readers for their kind words and reflections they shared in response to Saturday’s “poppy” missive.

There were numerous questions about poppies and the origin of the Memorial Day tradition. Some writers suggested that evidence goes back to the South at the end of the Civil War. Others point to different origins.

Robert Alexander, author of Five Forks: Waterloo of the Confederacy, sent this link, which may succinctly tell the poppy story.  We thank him for it.  (Below)

Happy Memorial Day to all.


David R. Kotok, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer,  Cumberland Advisors


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