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The “Buddy” Poppy: Symbol of Memorial Day

flanders_field

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1915.

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.

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Besides the American Flag the Buddy Poppy is perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of Memorial Day.  This poppy as we know it came about when Mrs Moina Michael read McRea’s poem and inspired wrote this verse:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

She then had the inspiration to begin wearing Red Poppies on Memorial Day and sold the poppies to friends and others with the money going to those in need. A French woman visiting the United States, a Madame Guerin discovered the new custom and took it back to France where she began to make artificial red poppies to sell with the proceeds going to the widows and orphans of the First World War. The custom spread to other countries and in 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League sold the poppies but disbanded in 1921. Madame Guerin approached the newly formed Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, the VFW in 1922 for assistance and in 1922 the VFW became the first American organization to sell poppies. Two years later the Buddy Poppy program began. The artificial poppies were made by disabled veterans who were paid for their work in order to provide them some form of income and distributed by other veterans across the country.  Today the VFW continues to distribute the Buddy Poppies which are still produced by disabled Veterans at the nation’s Veteran’s Administration Hospitals.

I remember the first Buddy Poppy that I every received. It was just before Memorial Day 1970, before it became a 3 day weekend falling on the last Monday of May. We were living with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia as my dad sought suitable housing for us in Long Beach California while he was in the Navy.

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Our initial move from the small town of Oak Harbor Washington, where my dad had been stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Long Beach had not gone well. The first place we lived was in a dangerous neighborhood and with my dad traveling frequently to Naval Shipyards around the country to help commission new ships the stress on the family, especially my mother in dealing with that and two young boys was too much. Dad sent us back to Huntington where my Grandparents and numerous other relatives still lived for the duration of the school year as he sought better housing.

Memorial Day then was filled with visits to cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of departed relatives as well as flags on the graves of relatives who had served in the military. We made a number of stops that day at the Bowen and Dundas cemeteries as well as others where relatives were interred. Afterward we had a home cooked meal prepared by my maternal grandmother Christine and then made a trip on a city bus to my paternal grandmother Verdie.

Holidays, were much like that for us during that time that we lived in Huntington, until my dad came back and brought us back to Long Beach in June. Just before my dad arrived to take us back to Long Beach my mom, her cousin Valerie and I were shopping downtown, which at the time before I-64 took traffic around the town and led to a new mall and shopping complex being built just out of town, was a bustling place of commerce and activity. Major retailers all had their stores downtown, while the best movie theaters and restaurants were there as well.

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We were coming out of the old SS Kresge store on Fourth Avenue and an elderly man wearing a VFW cap approached us and handed me a poppy. He had to be in his 70s so I presume that he was a Veteran of the First World War. He chatted briefly with my mom and Valerie and I am sure my mom gave him a bit of money for the poppy. I kept it for many years and it was eventually lost in one of our moves. But I will not forget it and any time I see a Veteran distributing them I make sure that I get one.

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Babe Ruth and President Warren G Harding with the first official Buddy Poppy of 1923 

For me the Buddy Poppy is a symbol of thanks for the sacrifices made by so many, those who did not come home from wars being killed or missing in action, as well as the wounded and the families of the dead and those that came home forever changed by their time in war. This year marks the 90th anniversary of it being the official flower of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s wars.

The poppy has even more significance for me now having served in Iraq. Seeing war’s devastation and knowing so many who have either been killed or wounded in the wars that we have engaged since September 11th 2001 has impacted me in ways that I could not have imagined before the war. Likewise having come back changed by my experience and having to deal with the affliction of severe PTSD I sense a camaraderie with those men who came home changed from war and in many cases returned to a country that did not understand them.

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I will be observing the “Go Silent” moment at 12:01 today with the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association to honor those who have given the last full measure.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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From the Sea: The Absolute Need of a Strong Navy, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Viable National Maritime Strategy

The USS Enterprise CV-6. Ordered in 1933 she was one of the most decorated and battle proven ships ever to fly the flag of the United States

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” Woodrow Wilson

As the economic crisis continues to envelop the nation there is much talk about the certain reduction in the size and capabilities of the U.S. Military components.  At the present time it seems that politicians of both parties are more interested in the immediate savings that can be derived from cuts.  Regardless of how they are done each service will see force reductions but coming at a time when we are at war those responsible for the cuts must be conscious of the effects on the capabilities that the United States has to defend itself and its interests overseas and to influence world affairs.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistanhave been ground intensive requiring the strengthening of the Army and Marine Corps to conduct counter insurgency operations. After 9-11 the Navy voluntarily reduced its fleet and personal strength in relatively dramatic fashion intending the savings be used to rebuilt the fleet.  Personnel strength was reduced by nearly 40,000 sailors and many ships were retired well before their anticipated retirement dates.  Unfortunately the Defense Department under then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shifted the savings to fund the ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Navy shipbuilding was cut and the Navy failed to help itself by investing much of the service’s budget to the development of three classes of ships and that are over budget, under performing and full of controversy, the Zumwalt Class Destroyers, the Freedom and Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships and the San Antonio Class Landing Ships.

Further cuts are already occurring or envisioned based on the planned cuts in Federal Government programs.  These cuts would reduce the Navy which is now smaller than at any time since the early 1930s following the 1922 Washington Naval Conference which limited the size of the Navies of the signatory countries.  From 1922-1932 the Republican Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations not only reduced the force but failed to lay down a single new ship to replace outdated ships and reduced maintenance funds to keep up the ships in service.  Budget cutting gutted the Navy during those years and it was only theRooseveltadministration which realized that a strong Navy was essential to national security began to rebuild the fleet in the 1930s and funded the development of the ships that would win World War Two.  The shipbuilding program had economic benefits as shipyards which had been inactive were able to employ skilled American workers which helped military preparedness, American business and American workers.  The ships that came out of that building program sustained us at the beginning of the war and those designed in the years just before the war served us for decades to come.  Even so the build up byRoosevelt, constrained by the dire economic crisis of the Great Depression could not add ships fast enough to have us fully ready for the Second World War and left us dangerously stretched by the demands of the Japanese advance in the Pacific and the German U-Boat campaign in theAtlantic.  Many good Americans died and the war was decidedly more difficult because of what was done to the Navy in the 1920s by successive short sighted Republican administrations.

The current ship production is at a level not seen in decades and bad surface ship designs and poor workmanship have hurt the Navy.  If the Navy is cut back significantly without a change in mission or corresponding shift in National Security Policy it will degrade the Navy’s ability to respond to emerging threats. Likewise if a coherent shipbuilding program is not undertaken that meets the projected threats American interests can and will be harmed as other nations gain local superiority in critical areas and sea lanes.   While the U.S. Navy currently enjoys a vast superiority over any current or potential adversary there are places that a cunning adversary could hurt American and allied interests simply because we are already spread very thin in regard to the number of ships available and the increasing number of missions and threat areas.

The challenge now is not to give in to the temptation to make indiscriminant cuts until we actually decide on a National Maritime Strategy that is not simply about the Navy but also the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  The strategy must include the interrelationship that we have with our allies and other nations and their navies.

The necessity for this goes beyond military preparedness it goes to our economic security since the vast majority of our commerce exports and imports are by sea.  If we take the time to think through a comprehensive maritime strategy it can go a long way to strengthen American industry, labor, commerce as well as national and economic security for us and the world.  A strong Navy, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard are far more important to the United Statesthan large ground forces.

An effective and judicious use of national power: USS Hue City CG-66 passing an impounded Iraqi smuggler in 2002

This is demonstrated in our history as well as that of Great Britain.  When we are strong at sea we are strong, when we commit to long wars of attrition overseas we cause ourselves untold problems. As our first President George Washington said:

“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

This is something that our politicians inWashingtonand those that populate the think tanks need to learn.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under national security, Navy Ships, US Navy