Poppies, Pennies, and Other Facts About Veterans’ Day
by Pamela J. Adams
When the American Army arrived in France in June of 1917, World War I was approaching its 3-year mark. The Allies welcomed the fresh troops, but there was a condition. General John J. Pershing and Democrat President Woodrow Wilson agreed the Americans were not going to be absorbed into British and French units as the Allied Powers wanted. Instead, they would fight solely under the American flag. Except Wilson came close to biting off more than America could chew.
America's troops at the time was not an established force and did not have the personnel needed to be an effective army. Likewise, they were not well trained in the new technology now utilized in Europe, which included barbed wire, tanks, new advanced guns, trenches, and planes. After declaring war, Wilson had to send support so he shipped off who we had while instituting a draft to raise troops for the newly formed American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
Pershing had a small force that was just with him in Mexico chasing Pancho Villa. These troops, along with any other units America had, were gathered and sent to France. These first 14,000 men were dubbed the 1st Division.
Due to the number “1” patch worn on their shoulder, the unit became known as “The Big Red One”, and included my grandfather. These men began training with British and French units while a massive army was built and trained in the states. Wilson, a known racist, resegregated the armed forces, therefore black soldiers in “Buffalo Soldiers” units were sent to fight in French battalions. This greatly offended Pershing who once commanded the black 10th Calvary Regiment. Pershing knew the importance and quality of black soldiers first hand as he and his unit demonstrated while fighting side by side with Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to take San Juan Hill. Appalled by Wilson’s overt racism, Pershing tried to reason with him but was unable to persuade Wilson to change his mind.
As American forces finally flooded Europe in late 1917 - early 1918, they were able to help the war-weary Allied Powers defeat the equally tired Central Powers. America’s first engagement in the war occurred on November 2, 1917, yet their first American led campaign did not happen until May 1918 at Cantigny, which they won. By the end of September 1918, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary started signing Armistices agreements with the Allies. However, armistices are not surrenders but cease fire agreements. Pershing wanted to keep fight Germany, the main entity of the Central Powers, until a surrender was obtained, but once again Wilson overruled. He wanted the conflict over. Therefore, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Germans and Allies laid down their firearms until an official contract could be agreed upon. “The War to End All Wars” was over.
In 1919, Allied countries celebrated the 1-year anniversary of the end of the war, which they called “Armistice Day”. Regarding the holiday, Wilson stated:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
While Americans observed the day ever year, Congress did not make it a legal holiday until May 13, 1938. A Congressional Act declared November 11th:
“a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
Following World War II, several countries renamed the holiday to Remembrance Day, though Armistice Day is still used. In America, Congress changed the name in 1954 to “All Veterans’ Day”, shortened later to “Veterans’ Day”, allowing citizens to honor veterans from all wars, not just World War I.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Veterans’ Day to the 4th Monday in October. However, Americans realized some dates, like Christmas, Halloween, and Independence Day, have significance. Therefore, President Ford returned Veterans’ Day to November 11 in 1978.
While countries have their own unique customs to honor their veterans, there are a few traditions that span across the globe.
For a 2-minute period, millions throughout the world stop at 11:00am for a moment of silence, honoring the time the last armistice of WWI took effect. Originally, the first minute was to reflect on the 20 million lives lost in the conflict. The second minute remembers the family and loved ones left behind. Many still continue this tradition extending their thoughts to all veterans.
In 1915, during a time of reflection after losing his close friend, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae composed a poem while gazing upon a field of red. However, the red was not blood, but a beautiful red flower. A dormant flower, poppies can remain in the ground for upwards of 80 years without blooming. Yet when the ground is agitated, as it was due to the wartime activities of World War I, they began dominating the battlefields turned cemeteries. Entitled In Flanders Fields, McCrae paid tribute to his 6,000 fallen countrymen now buried in the field blanketed by poppies. The flower became a symbol of the fallen and wounded soldiers following its publication. After the war, organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted the red poppy as their official flower. Today, they remain a common decoration for Veterans’ Day, as well as Memorial Day.
After the Vietnam War, Americans adopted a tradition dating back to Roman times that pays tribute to our fallen soldiers. As a way of showing respect, people place coins on their headstones. A penny is left to indicate that someone stopped by to pay their respects. If you trained in boot camp with the deceased soldier, leave a nickel. Veterans who served with the soldier leave a dime and quarters signifies a visitor who was present when the soldier was killed. While this custom can be done at any time, most citizens choose Memorial Day to practice it, but Veterans’ Day is acceptable also.
Though we set aside November 11th to officially recognize and honor the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for freedom and liberty, we should praise these veterans every day. Even just a simple thank you, kind word or a handshake means everything to a veteran. We need to remember and appreciate these men and women who selflessly served their country.
God Bless Our Veterans and God Bless America.
But that’s just my 2 cents.
Visit TheFactsPaper.com to find out more about World War I and other historical events.
About the Author
Pamela J. Adams was a high school math teacher in an inner city school system but her passion is research and history. Pam has authored several genealogy books along with compilations of her historical blogs, Liberating Letters, which she maintains at her website TheFactsPaper.com. You can find more details about her books on her Amazon Page.
You can follow her current blogs at her Liberating Letters Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon accounts. Her desire is to provide a tool for teachers, parents, grandparents, and citizens to preserve and pass on America's rich history to students, family, and all people who love freedom and liberty. Pamela was also a contributing writer to Constitution.com before joining Pandora’s Box Gazette.
“Read more untold stories and how they still relate to us today at TheFactsPaper.com.”
You can read Pamela’s “I Never Heard That” column on the 2nd Wednesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.