On May 30, 1868 flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery – voila, Memorial Day observed.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890 Memorial Day was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day until after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring fallen soldiers who fought in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any conflict.
It was during World War I when the lives of 368 soldiers ended in Flanders Field, Belgium. Once an open field full of wild poppies, it is now a sacred burial ground which blossoms with poppies amongst the headstones.
Moina Michael, from Georgia, was the first to conceive of, and wear, red poppies on Memorial Day in response to a moving poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The VFW adopted Michael’s vision in 1922 and became the first veterans’ organization to offer their artificial poppies in exchange for a donation. By 1924 the VFW teamed up with disabled veterans and introduced the now familiar “Buddy” Poppy program.
The poppy has become the world’s most recognized memorial symbol for the bravest among us – soldiers who died in conflict.