Memorial Day 2013: Lest We Forget

by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum at Cantigny Park


Photo by Ken Wickham, Cantigny in Focus Photo Contest Finalist
Memorial Day is this coming weekend. There are many ways to honor the memory of our service-members who lost their lives serving our country.  One of the best ways is to make a donation of any size to the American Legion and wear the Poppy – the memorial flower for our war dead. It’s a tradition which began in the years following World War I. Veterans returning remembered the wild poppies that lined the devastated battlefields, and came to look upon this flower as a living symbol of their dead comrades' sacrifice. All proceeds from the American Legion Poppy sales will go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities. If you happen to visit Cantigny Park this Friday through Monday, Legionnaires from Cantigny Post 556 will be collecting donations. The proceeds will go to the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton, Ill. and matched dollar-for-dollar by the McCormick Foundation. 


More than 655,000 Americans have been killed in battle since 1775 (including some 75,000 Confederate war dead), and nearly as many have died in wartime service from causes other than enemy action. Indeed, through World War I, non-battle deaths far exceeded battle deaths.  Of the combat dead, nearly 14,000 have died while serving in the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.  The first 200 of those died at the Battle of Cantigny, May 28-31, 1918, a place that was covered with wild poppies that spring.  We encourage you to keep this in mind and honor their memory this weekend, or wherever you may encounter some gracefully aging survivors in Legion caps offering you a paper poppy. They were young once, and accepted the risk of youthful death so you and I could live and work as we do.