While we're all familiar with the silk poppies distributed around Memorial Day, many people don't the history of this tradition. Money raised through the annual Poppy Days program benefits local veterans and their families.

It must have been surreal to see such beautiful flowers proliferating in the midst of utter carnage.

In 1915, Lt. Col. John McCrae observed red poppies flourishing across a Belgian landscape scarred by battle. This inspired the Canadian military physician to draft “In Flanders Fields.”

McCrae wrote his poem after he presided over the funeral of a close friend who died in World War I.

Providing an image of poppies springing up among gravesites, “In Flanders Fields” captures the tragedy of armed conflict.

In Flanders Fields

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.

American professor Moina Michael published a 1918 poem in response, called “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She began distributing silk poppies to commemorate all those who gave their lives.

The American Legion Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars now collect money for veterans by distributing poppies around Memorial Day.

The red poppies bring to mind all those who have died preserving our freedoms. But they also remind us that life goes on for many veterans, and we can help them overcome their struggles. Keep an eye out this weekend for people selling poppies and make a generous donation.

Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.