Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are our Days of Remembrance for military service men and women.
Memorial Day honors military personnel who died in the service of our country, particularly in battle. We celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. Veterans Day is always celebrated on the 11th day of November. Veteran’s Day honors all those who served honorably in the military in peacetime or in wartime.
Katie Mae and I have two favorite people from Statesboro, Georgia in the form of Mrs. Moena Mullis (Miss Moena will be 91 years old this June) and Mrs. Edith Hutchison (who is 89). Miss Moena, Miss Edith and Katie Mae all served as volunteers at East Georgia Medical Center there in Statesboro. Katie Mae calls Miss Moena and Miss Edith her, “Statesboro Mothers.” and these two grand ladies are still faithfully serving at the hospital there.
I once asked Miss Moena the origin of her unusual first name and her story introduced me to a lionhearted lady from Georgia who was key in creating the popular habit of buying poppies on Memorial Day. Miss Moena’s name is pronounced “Mo-wee-na.” She said she was named for a famous Georgian named Moina Michael but her mother spelled it with an “e” instead of an “i.” Miss Moena did not know much about Moina Michael but I Googled her name and printed Moina Michael’s story for Moena Mullis.
Moina Michael is now one of my favorite and great heroines, right up there just after Katie Mae and my Mother! Every woman and girl should read Moina Michael’s story because she was a strong, caring, enduring example of what women can do.
Miss Moina Michael was instrumental in beginning the national tradition of selling red poppies to raise money for US War Veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day each year. By the time of her death in 1944 over $2 million had been raised through the sale of red poppies
During World War One, she left her home and job at the State Normal School to go to Washington, DC to help in the war effort. She was too old to go overseas so she remained in Washington where she worked at the National YMCA helping with the war affiliated programs. She read the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Colonel John McCrae and was so moved by the poem that when the occasion arose she took the opportunity to campaign for the selling of red poppies as a fundraiser for helping disabled war veterans. She wrote a poem in reply to Colonel McCrae’s poem. Her poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith” contains the lines:
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.
Today hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to help veterans in need and Moina Michael is known as the “Poppy Lady.” The only people who are paid in this endeavor are disabled veterans in VA hospitals who make the poppies. They are sold by members of the VFW and American Legion Auxiliary.
Moina Michael is a Georgian. The State Normal School she left when she went to Washington is today known as the University of Georgia. She came back to UGA to continue to teach. She taught a class of disabled veterans at the University of Georgia in 1918 and the obvious need of these men for continuing health services and financial aid inspired her to double her fund raising efforts with the selling of red poppies.
In later years she was honored as one of Georgia’s most famous women, a U.S. Postage Stamp was printed in her honor. A bust of Moina Michael is in the rotunda of the Georgia state capitol and a Liberty Ship was named for her after her death in 1944 during World War Two. Today a section of US Highway 78 is named “The Moina Michael Highway.”
I would probably would never have known about Moina Michael if Katie Mae and I had not met and become friends with Miss Moena.
And this Memorial Day as we show our gratitude and thankfulness to those who served our country I would also like to extend a special thanks to Moina Michael and the generation of courageous women, like Mrs. Edith Hutchison and Mrs. Moena Mullis, who so dauntlessly supported American service personnel and kept the home fires burning for them so many years ago.