From its inception, the Buddy Poppy Program has helped the VFW live up to its motto, "to honor the dead by helping the living." The Buddy Poppy - small red flower symbolic of the blood shed in World War I by millions of Allied soldiers in defense of freedom - was originally sold to provide relief for the people of war devastated France. Later, its sale directly benefited thousands of disabled and down-and-out American veterans.
The poppy program actually got its start on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly after World War I, Madame E. Guerin, founder of the American and French Children's League, became concerned that the free world was "forgetting too soon those sleeping in Flanders Fields." Inspired by Colonel John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Field," which spoke of poppies growing in an Allied graveyard "between the crosses, row on row," Guerin decided on the poppy as the most appropriate memorial flower. She began attending the conventions of any serviceman's organization that would allow her to speak. Her request was always the same - to enact the following resolution: "Be it resolved that every member, if possible, and his or her family shall wear a silk red poppy."
The poppy program was quickly embraced by the people of France, and also secured the sponsorship of the Prince of Wales, the Governors General of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and the President of Cuba. In each of these countries, veteran's organizations and their auxiliaries agreed to sell memorial poppies for the benefit of the children of France.
In April 1919, the "Poppy Lady," as Madame Guerin was now known, arrived in the United States. She came to speak in support of the "Victory Loan" - financial assistance to help France's homeless and jobless get back on their feet. While stateside, she asked the VFW for help, and the organization readily agreed. In May 1922, the VFW conducted the first nationwide distribution of poppies in the United States. Then, at its National Encampment in Seattle in August 1922, the organization adopted the poppy as the official memorial flower of the VFW.
The American and French Children's League (sometimes referred to as the Franco-American Children's League) had been dissolved shortly before the VFW's 1922 poppy sale. Much of the poppy supply went with it. Consequently, the VFW had great difficulty obtaining enough poppies for the 1923 sale.
From the frustrations of the 1923 sales year evolved a plan to pay disabled and needy American veterans to make the poppies. This plan was presented to the 1923 National Encampment for approval. Immediately following the plan's adoption, a VFW poppy factory was set up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All veterans who would be manufacturing poppies for the 1924 sale were sent to a training workshop by the U.S. Veterans Bureau regional manager in Pittsburgh.
It was from these early disabled poppy makers that the name which would be the flower's trademark came. The name just "grew" out of the poppy makers' remembrances of their buddies who never came back from war. Undoubtedly, because it expressed so simply the deepest significance of the Poppy Plan, the name stuck. All over the country, the little red flower became known as the "Buddy Poppy."
In February 1924, the VFW registered the name "Buddy Poppy" with the U.S. Patent Office. On May 20, 1924, a certificate was issued granting the VFW, under the classification of artificial flowers, all trademark rights to the name of "Buddy." No other organization, firm, or individual can use the name "Buddy Poppy." The VFW has made this trademark a guarantee that all poppies bearing that name and the VFW label are the work of bona fide disabled and needy veterans.
After the 1924 sale, some of the larger state departments of the VFW suggested that it might improve local sales if the poppies used were made by hospitalized veterans from their own area. The delegates at the 1924 National Encampment agreed. They ruled that poppies would now be made throughout the U.S. by disabled veterans in government hospitals and by needy veterans in workshops supervised by the VFW. Currently the little red flowers of silk-like fabric
are assembled in eleven different locations. The VA Facilities in which they are made are located in: Leavenworth and Topeka, Kansas; Biloxi, Mississippi; Temple, Texas; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Hampton, Virginia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Dayton, Ohio; and White City and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
From the start of the VFW's poppy program, the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the Administrator of Veterans Affairs, and other federal agencies have supported the Buddy Poppy. And beginning with Warren G. Harding, U.S. presidents have also been staunch supporters of the program. Each year, a Poppy Girl or Poppy Boy selected from the National Home's residents starts the annual campaign by presenting the first poppy to the president of the United States.
IN FLANDER'S 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.
THE HISTORY OF THE POPPY