ongtime Key Biscayne resident and stalwart American Legion member Dick Graham and my husband, The Lawyer, recently had a conversation about Memorial Day and poppies.
Dick Graham told my husband many young people don’t know why poppies are given out in conjunction with Memorial Day.
“My wife knows all about poppies,” my husband remarked. “She’s probably one of very few people who remembers every word of that poem about poppies, In Flanders Fields.”
So Mr. Graham suggested based on my expertise I write a column about poppies. And since poppies are going to be distributed by American Legion Auxiliary members (with the assistance of American Legion members) from Wednesday, May 22, through Saturday, May 25, at Winn-Dixie shopping center, this is an ideal time and place to write about those little scarlet flowers.
In order to understand the linkage between poppies and Memorial Day, it’s first necessary to understand Memorial Day. That day – originally known as Decoration Day – was proclaimed on May 30, 1868, by General John A. Logan of Illinois, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, after the end of the Civil War. According to General Logan’s proclamation, members of the military who had served on the side of the North as well as on the side of the South were to be honored on this day “of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.”
Shortly before the United States entered World War I, a connection was established between Decoration Day and poppies. The blood red flower grew wild on European fields that soon were to be transformed into bloody battlegrounds. In 1915, after Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Armed Forces had presided over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier on the battlefield of Ypres, Belgium, he expressed his sorrow at his loss by writing the poem, In Flanders Fields. The poem begins:
“In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
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.”
The sale of fresh poppies to honor the war dead began in France in 1922. In 1923, the Veterans of Foreign Wars began distributing artificial poppies made by a firm in New York City. In succeeding years, poppies were assembled by hospitalized and disabled veterans, a custom which continues to this day. The American Legion Auxiliary distributes the poppies just before Memorial Day; all money contributed by the public is used for the welfare of veterans as well as for their needy dependents or their orphans.
When I was a child, Memorial Day, which always was celebrated on May 30, was not just another day on which to go shopping. Instead, it was marked by parades and special tributes to veterans. One such tribute took place every year at my school: Pope School on Chicago’s West Side. One year, I was chosen to recite In Flanders Fields. My mother bought me a white silk dress for the occasion, and I stood on the assembly hall stage reciting the words I’ve never forgotten:
“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.”
So within the next few days, when you see those dedicated volunteers distributing poppies, remember the poppy you pin on your lapel is your way of keeping faith with all those who’ve died in the service of our country. Think about the heroes we honor on Memorial Day. And think of John McCrae’s poignant poem that ends with the words:
“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.’
Keeping our residents engaged
Recently our Council discussed the idea of creating a Citizens Academy open to all residents of the Village. It would provide the opportunity for all Key Biscayners to learn more about how their local government is constituted and to gain knowledge about the processes our elected representatives and other Village officials follow to allow our Village to function efficiently for the benefit of all the taxpayers of our community. Discussions regarding how to organize this Citizens Academy are still in the preliminary stages, and a great deal of analysis will be required before the Council decides how to make this idea a reality.
I assume the first thing the Council will want to do is to select a comprehensive curriculum of subjects, and I suggest the most logical manner to achieve that goal would be to ask as many Key Biscayners as possible what is it they consider important to learn about. With that information in hand, the Council would be able to determine the best method of teaching the subjects in a manner satisfactory to the public.
Mayor Frank Caplan could consider requesting during a public Council meeting that interested residents should submit in writing their ideas to the Village Manager for communication to the Council. The Mayor’s request will surely be reported in The Islander News and would reach readers Village wide. Obtaining input of the people would give the Council the most complete indication of what our residents would want from a Citizens Academy.
This method of including the opinion of a maximum number of Key Biscayners will be the best way to assure success of the concept. In the past, our Council has appointed official committees formed by a limited number of residents to study very specific issues. But for the purpose of deciding the general scope of the Citizens Academy, our Council should seek to hear the voices of as many residents as possible and should implement their ideas. Implementation of the ideas of the citizenry and establishing in an orderly manner the concept of a Citizens Academy would be beneficial for our community now and in the future.
Experienced longtime Key Biscayners have already actively participated in the formative years of our incorporation as an independent municipality and are quite familiar with the Village Charter approved by the voters in 1991, defining the manner in which our local government would be organized. But I am sure they would still be interested in attending sessions at the Citizens Academy to learn updated information regarding what goes on nowadays in the Council Chambers and at Village Hall, and perhaps consider getting involved again.
Now 22 years later already into the future, changes in our population have occurred and many new residents have come. Therefore, at this point the idea of complementing and enhancing the knowledge of these new residents regarding all aspects of our local government is essential to keep our community strong. We will be welcoming new voters and will be in contact with new aspiring candidates to the position of Mayor and Council members. Those individuals would be extremely interested in having a complete understanding of the duties and responsibilities they must learn to faithfully perform the principles they must promise to uphold if they wish to receive the approval of the voters of this community.
Summer of 2013 is upon us, and the Council should encourage this concept of a Citizens Academy to move forward so the first sessions of instruction that residents could attend could take place in the fall of this year, and additional sessions could be arranged prior to the 2014 Village Council election. I am sure new registered voters in the Village would consider these pre-election sessions extremely beneficial.
I hope many residents of the Village will become thoroughly interested in promoting the Citizens Academy concept. The higher we maintain the level of communication between our elected representatives, Village administrative officials and all the residents of this community, the higher we will be able to maintain the quality of our local government.