MANATEE COUNTY — In honor of Veterans Day, East County resident George Johnston plans to hand out a symbolic piece of history — one that reminds the nation of the sacrifices made by its military.
In each hand that will receive it, he’ll place a single red “Buddy” poppy flower.
“It signifies the sacrifice that veterans have made for their country,” said Johnston, a veteran of the Cold War and commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Braden River Post 12055. “You want to honor the sacrifice of those who went before you.”
On Nov. 7, he and other members of Post 12055 hope to do that by passing out Buddy Poppies at three East County Publix locations, including stores at 12 Oaks Plaza, Lakewood Walk and Lakewood Ranch Gateway.
The poppies are free, but donations are being accepted. Every penny collected will benefit veterans or veterans programs, Johnston said.
“It’s a great way for us to raise money through the donations to serve veterans,” he said. “One hundred percent of that money goes to veterans or veterans causes.”
Since the post began taking collections for poppies in May 2007, it has collected about $13,000. Of that money, about $5,000 has gone to aid for active duty personnel, $3,000 to veterans aid and programs, $1,500 for patriotic youth programs and $1,500 for poppy supplies, which helps disabled veterans, Johnston said.
In addition to raising money, the poppies also will give the VFW an opportunity to educate the public about the history of the poppy, Johnston said.
“We don’t want to lose the significance of what the poppy means, and if we don’t educate people, it will be lost,” he said.
The VFW of the United States began its campaign to distribute poppies just prior to Memorial Day in 1922. But the idea to have disabled and needy veterans assemble the paper flowers evolved just a year later, and by 1924, a VFW Buddy Poppy Factory had been established in Pittsburgh, Pa., where all the poppies for that year’s campaign were made by veterans.
It was also at that time, the name “Buddy Poppy” was coined by the VFW and made a trademark by the same entity.
Today, Buddy Poppies are assembled by needy, aging and disabled veterans in VA hospitals across the country, and those veterans are compensated for their work through donations to help them buy items for themselves or their loved ones.
Each year, VFW posts and auxiliaries of the VFW distribute more than 14 million poppies in every state and dozens of other countries.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
The VFW Braden River Post will be out from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 7 passing out “Buddy poppies” at the following Publix locations:
• 12 Oaks Plaza, 7290 55th Ave. E.
• Lakewood Walk, 11205 S.R. 70 E.
• Lakewood Ranch Gateway, 1755 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
The use of the poppy by the VFW was inspired, in part, by the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John MacCrae (1872-1918) of Canada. The poem itself is dedicated to the memory of men who fought and died in France during WWI. But since that time, the poppy has become a symbol of all veterans who have given their lives in military service.
“In Flanders Fields”
By Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918)
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 head 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.