As a U.S. Air Force veteran, artist and flower shop owner, I’ve always known the positive power of flowers. From my youth on the flat farmlands of Illinois to the alpine flora in the great state of Colorado, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by Mother Nature’s bounty and beauty for most of my life.
The relationship between flowers and life’s events are like peanut butter and jelly, heck, they just go together. Any celebration or holiday from birth to death is a cause to receive or give flowers. Memories of prom, homecomings, Valentine’s Day, weddings, funerals, Mother’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving are just a few of the important times and chapters of our lives when flowers impact our thoughts and feelings. Their sights and fragrances forever embedded in our memories. I can still remember the smell of that carnation on my tux lapel in ’78. As life got more complicated and I moved on into the military, I still felt the need to stay connected with family. Sending flowers home was a way to accomplish that, those blossoms served me well to convey my thoughts and feelings to the ones I cared about most.
The connection between the Armed Forces and flowers goes deep into our past, from decorating the graves of the military killed in the Civil War. Flowers have always been there to express our feelings and gratitude.
After WWI, the red poppy became a symbol to honor the soldiers who fought and died in Europe near Flanders Field. Nearly 150 cemeteries are located in the area of Ypres, Belgium. Row upon row of headstones and crosses mark the final resting place of more than a million U.S., Australian and European soldiers and civilians who gave their lives in combat that lasted four years. Each spring, a common plant, the red-flowered corn poppy, blooms to honor the fallen. A poem, “In Flanders Field,” written by a Canadian surgeon and soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae in May 1915 depicts the scene. It was a tribute to his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, who died there. Wearing of the silk red poppy is still today an official remembrance for those who died serving our country in war. Lest we never forget.
The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers dates back to ancient times. But in the U.S., it became customary during the Civil War. Mothers and wives of the fallen of both the North and South decorated graves. With some 600,000 soldiers dying, burial and memorialization took on a new cultural significance.
Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, was created. The date of May 30 was originally chosen due to the fact the flowers would be at their optimal abundance. It is now observed every year on the last Monday of May.
Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day, November 11, is to celebrate and honor the service of all U.S. military veterans. Whereas Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of the men and women who died while serving this great nation.
Other important dates to honor our military and their service:
- Patriot Day, September 11
- Independence Day, July 4th
- Remembrance Day is also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day and coincides with Veterans Day on November 11
- Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7
Be it to honor, celebrate, remember or pay respect, flowers can speak the words that are hard to come by. When you fly your flag, plant some flowers nearby to pay tribute to our heroes. When you see a soldier, hand them a flower, they’ll understand. The power of flowers is undeniable and I salute you.
Sgt. Brian J. Wheat, USAF Veteran, 1980-1984, Lafayette Florist Gift Shop and Garden Center 1984-present.