Bright red poppies are being worn with pride in advance of National Poppy Day on Friday, May 26.

Bright red poppies are being worn with pride in advance of National Poppy Day on Friday, May 26.  
I have one twined around the zipper of my bag and each time I see them sold by both the VFW and the American Legion, I always buy one. My Pop, a Navy veteran who served during World War I, always did too and he passed the custom down to me.  John McCrae, a doctor, a soldier, and a poet, wrote the most popular poem of the era, "In Flanders Field" He described the poppies that grew wild where some of the war dead were buried and the simple flower became a symbol still used today.  For anyone who may not know the poem, for those who want to read it again, and for those who, like me, love the powerful words, here is the "In Flanders Field," by John McCrae.
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.

I grew up patriotic.  That's not surprising for an Army sergeant's daughter, the granddaughter of three men who served in two different world wars, the wife of an Air Force veteran, as well as the niece, cousin, and friend of many more.  Some of my ancestors, on both sides of the family tree, have served in every conflict since the Revolutionary War.  Not only was I taught to buy buddy poppies from both the VFW and the American Legion every May and November, I learned to fly the American flag with pride.
Memorial Day weekend is still Decoration Day to me.  I'm old enough to remember when it was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week  that the date fell upon.  In 1971, it officially became the last Monday of May and a three-day weekend.   Although leaving flowers or tokens of affection on the graves of our near and dear dates back many centuries, the custom of Decoration Day began after the Civil War when both sides wanted to remember their dead.  It's hard to pinpoint who first set aside a special day or if they were in the North or South but the custom spread with rapid speed.  By the years following the First World War, the holiday had become a time to remember the dead from all American wars.
Over time, it also became a day when families remembered all their deceased family members and ancestors.  In our family, in my childhood I spent my earliest years trekking from one cemetery to another, from several within St. Joseph, Missouri ranging up to Fillmore, a small country town where many of my maternal family members are buried.  We brought fresh peonies, cut from our yard but we also brought small flags for the veterans in the family.  When we made our move southward to Neosho, I began visiting the cemeteries when I returned and switched to silk flowers.  I still pick red, white, and blue floral tributes for the veterans. And, I often tuck a buddy poppy into the vase or within the blooms.
As Memorial Day approaches, I will be wearing my poppy with pride.

Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer for the Neosho Daily News and writes a column.