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


Category: Think Tank

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5 Responses to “Memorial Day Poppies”

  1. PeterR says:

    Beautifully written, thank you.

    Rest in Peace, James Sanford Burnett (1947-1969), who died in Vietnam.

    And thank you to all veterans for your sacrifices.

  2. farmera1 says:

    Tough on anti-war vet like me. Never knew the history of the poppy on Memorial Day but I knew the tradition well from my childhood.

    To me this stirs memories best forgotten and to paraphrase something I heard long ago:
    Nothing is louder than the voice of the fallen soldier

    Rest in piece, close friends and acquaintances that died in Vietnam.

  3. RW says:

    Went to school with and hit my only in-park home run off of Joe E. back in 1961 (they got me at home much to my chagrin). He ran into bad luck in Hua Nghia province 10 years later but my luck was good in California. Strange how this can make you feel guilty thousands of miles apart and years later. I can’t do dulce et decorum est pro patria mori but I can acknowledge obligation, fate and regret. R.I.P.

    No people are uninteresting.
    Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

    Nothing in them is not particular,
    and planet is dissimilar from planet.

    And if a man lived in obscurity
    making his friends in that obscurity
    obscurity is not uninteresting.

    To each his world is private,
    and in that world one excellent minute.

    And in that world one tragic minute.
    These are private.

    In any man who dies there dies with him
    his first snow and kiss and fight.
    It goes with him.

    There are left books and bridges
    and painted canvas and machinery.
    Whose fate is to survive.

    But what has gone is also not nothing:
    by the rule of the game something has gone.
    Not people die but worlds die in them.

    Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures
    Of whom, essentially, what did we know?

    Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
    Lover of lover?

    We who knew our fathers
    in everything, in nothing.

    They perish. They cannot be brought back.
    The secret worlds are not regenerated.

    And every time again and again
    I make my lament against destruction.

    — Yevgeny Yevtushenko (“People”)

  4. rd says:

    You will rarely see Canadians wearing maple leaf lapel pins or other nationalistic symbols, but every November nearly everybody buys a poppy to support veterans and wears it proudly for November 11, Remembrance Day.