Why and how we celebrate Memorial Day

Published 2:39 pm Sunday, May 24, 2020

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To the Editor,

As Beaufort County residents prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, members of American Legion Auxiliary Washington Unit No. 15 would like to tell the story of the poppy, our memorial flower, to shed light on why and how we celebrate Memorial Day.

Our Remembrance Red Poppy of the American Legion Auxiliary began on Saturday, Nov. 9, 1918, as a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives in WWI. While attending the 25th conference of the overseas YMCA, Moina Belle Michael read a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae entitled, “We Shall Not Sleep” (later entitled “In Flanders Field”). Michael’s desk was in a room where servicemen said farewell to family members. She purchased 25 poppies, distributed them to the businessmen in New York attending the conference and donated the earnings for the servicemen. Michael went on to lead a campaign for the adoption of the poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice, and on Sept. 27, 1920, the red poppy became the official flower of the American Legion family. Distribution of poppies became a national program in 1924 where individuals receiving the flowers are asked by unit members for donations that are used to support current and future veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families with medical and financial needs. Last year, the American Legion Auxiliary contributed $3.6 million for veterans, military and their families from poppy distributions.

Unfortunately, this Memorial Day, unit members will not sponsor a poppy distribution, but on Friday will conduct another annual event that has been done by our unit for more than 50 years. United States graveside flags will be placed to honor and remember veterans interred at Oakdale and Cedar Hills cemeteries and Pamlico Memorial Gardens. The Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS members will assist us again this year.

As the American Legion Auxiliary celebrates its 100th anniversary, honoring, remembering and supporting veterans and military families and promoting patriotism continues to be a part of the organization’s mission. Placing flags at the cemeteries serves both purposes.

When our unit members first started this event, flags were placed on individual graves but now many of the headstones cannot be read so rather than omitting anyone, the members voted to use the current display method to recognize those who served our country so well.  We hope if you view our flags, the site of the flags waving in the breeze will provide an appreciation for the sacrifice men and women of the Armed Forces have made so that we can enjoy the privileges we have as Americans today.


Betsey Lee Hodges

President, American Legion Auxiliary Unit No. 15