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As I have wandered around London this week, I’ve noticed something a bit odd. Not that everyone drives on the wrong side of the road or that when someone ends a sentence in “isn’t it?” they don’t actually want you to answer. It was that 90% of the people I saw had a red paper poppy on their lapel.
Being the naturally curious yet antisocial human that I am, I chose to ask Google, rather than one of the literally hundreds of flower-sporters I saw, what was up with this particular phenomenon. Where I wound up was at the website for The Royal British Legion, a charitable organization that “is asking the nation to Rethink Remembrance by recognising the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces community, past and present.”
So what does this paper flower have to do with it? Well, it’s kind of a long story, but the gist of it is that back in 1915, a dude lost his friend in WW1 and wrote a poem about it that mentioned the red poppy. The poem became famous, and in 1921, it inspired an American (yeah, that’s right) named Moina Michael to make and sell red silk poppies. The Royal British Legion ordered 9 million of them and sold all of them that November, raising over £106,000 (more than 3 million pounds in today’s money) to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.
Fast forward 102 years and tens of millions of dollars later, and here we are. Oh, and by the way, those millions of paper poppies? They are made at “The Poppy Factory,” which was founded in 1926 and to this day employs disabled former service members, while also helping other veterans find work.
So here’s my real question – how is it that the British are so much fucking better at this than we are? I’m over here walking around in a sea of poppy-wearing Brits, while most of you probably forgot that tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. And you can’t really be blamed for that, because let’s be honest: it’s a half-ass holiday at best. It’s celebrated every November 11th, but everywhere from the stock market (when it falls during the week) to the supermarket is open for business like it’s any other day, meaning that most of us – including veterans – have to work instead of taking the time to honor our nation’s heroes. Sure, it’s a day on the calendar where veterans can get a free Grand Slam at Denny’s and some random politicians take part in a few ceremonies so that they can check the box, but there are no poppies or anything of the sort, no real holiday, no remembrance that appropriately reflects the sacrifice these men and women have made. And frankly, as I see all that’s being done here for the British soldiers that fought alongside so many of our own veterans, I’m embarrassed.
So this year, how about we all pledge to do a little bit better? I know that it’s no Red Poppy Appeal, but maybe instead of blowing all of your money on beer for Saturday’s tailgate, you can make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, or the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans? Or maybe skip the game all together and volunteer at your local veterans’ service organization (your local Elks Lodge or VFW can help you find opportunities in your area). Personally, I’m going to go visit my uncle and let him tell me all of the war stories he wants, despite the fact that I’ve heard them a million times…and I’m going to wear my red poppy while doing it. .