If the Driver Wears a Poppy

Professional truck drivers wear many different uniforms, with differing colors and company logos, but the Friday before Memorial Day, you may see a uniform addition – many drivers will add a red poppy.

For more than 100 years, the red poppy has been a symbol of sacrifice, worn by Americans to honor those who served and died for our country in war. It reminds Americans of the costs paid by our veterans – especially the ultimate price – while protecting our freedoms.  Traditionally, in the United States, “Red Poppy Day” is the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

The poppy as a symbol of war casualties started with a poem. In the spring of 1915, Canadian artillery surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae saw bright-red poppies blooming on the war-torn fields where many soldiers had lost their lives. The sight inspired him to write “In Flanders Fields”:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
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.

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.

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.


University of Georgia professor Moïna Michael wrote in response; “We Shall Keep Faith.”  She also started wearing a red poppy in honor of fallen troops and added the idea of making and selling red poppies to raise money for veterans.


Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.


In the U.S. the poppy tradition became part of America’s Memorial Day remembrance.

Originally called Decoration Day, with origins traced back to the aftermath of the Civil War, the day was a time for Americans to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and to honor their sacrifice.

It is unclear where exactly this solemn tradition originated.  Some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

In May of 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Union Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “The 30th of May 1868 is designated for the purpose 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 and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.  He chose the date of “Decoration Day”, as he called it because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On that first Decoration Day, General (and later President) James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, where 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.  In the years after, states individually adopted May 30 as Memorial Day and in 1971, it became a national holiday observed the final Monday of each May.  Red Poppy Day now falls the Friday before.

The Census Bureau notes at least one in 10 truckers are veterans, double the rate of workers in general.  Truckers outpace other occupations as a destination for veterans.  So don’t be surprised if you see a truck driver wearing a red flower on Memorial Day weekend, and if you do, now you know why.