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The lonely notes of a bugler playing taps. The jolting crack from a gun salute. The soft flap of a flag in the breeze.

This is the haunting soundtrack often accompanying Memorial Day's solemn pageantry. It will soon echo once again through Minnesota cemeteries as the day set aside to honor the nation's fallen looms on Monday.

Those with and without official roles in these ceremonies should take the opportunity to add a meaningful pop of color — one of the paper or silk poppies distributed by well-known veterans service organizations — to the event.

Donning a poppy is important as well for those whose plans don't include a Memorial Day service. Doing so shows support for warriors who answered the nation's call to arms. Donations collected also go to Minnesota military men and women in need.

Fortunately, poppies are easy to find this time of year. The run-up to Memorial Day is typically when two well-known veterans service organizations — Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion Auxiliary — distribute the flowers to the public. The flowers' crimson color makes the tables set up by veterans in front of businesses easy to spot.

The poppies are generally silk or paper, and easily attached to a lapel, hat or purse. Worn respectfully, the flowers send a necessary message to living veterans and the families of those lost in battle: Their service and sacrifice are not forgotten.

It shouldn't be too much to ask Minnesotans to put one of these flowers on this weekend even as they rush to open the cabin or launch the boat.

The poppy's role in remembering battlefield valor goes back more than 100 years. It's rooted in a powerful poem, "In Flanders Fields," noting the flowers that seemed to miraculously bloom amid World War I's carnage.

The author John McCrae, a Canadian doctor, wrote the poem after burying a close friend. McCrae would not survive the war either, losing his life to pneumonia. His words, however, would inspire efforts to remember the conflict's fallen.

In recent years, there's been a welcome spotlight on two women who played leading roles in turning the poppy into a potent symbol. The American Legion Auxiliary has a well-written account of a Georgia educator who led the charge in the United States. Moina Michael, born in 1869, traveled at her own expense promoting the poppy.

In France, Anna E. Guerin embarked on a similar quest, promoting artificial poppies as a fundraiser for French soldiers hurt in the war.

"Today, veterans organizations and others all across the United States, Canada, and Britain distribute the poppy flowers and raise millions of dollars each year for military veterans," according to the American Legion Auxiliary report on Michael.

Close to 500,000 poppies are expected to be distributed in Minnesota this year by the two veterans service organizations. Officials for both emphasized that dollars raised go to veterans' relief. For example, the funds might be used for fuel cards or groceries for vets in need.

If you can't readily find a poppy, some VFW or American Legion locations may have them on hand. An important point: The poppies aren't sold. Those who seek one can donate if they'd like.

For more than a century, the poppy has symbolized sacrifice. The VFW and American Legion Auxiliary efforts commendably carry on this touching tradition — one that we hope endures for generations to come.