‘Poppy Day’ highlights need to reach out to veterans

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Members and volunteers from the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 in Worth will be out in force next Thursday.

The volunteers will be found at main intersections and near retail stores throughout the village on May 25 collecting for current and past veterans. The gift for people who donate will be artificial flowers that represent poppies.

Bethanne Lode, secretary and treasurer for Marrs-Meyer American Legion Auxiliary, is the local Poppy Day chairman. She said the volunteers are dedicated and a great help on Poppy Day.

“I’m getting in the neighborhood of 50 to 55 volunteers,” said Lode. “We have some older seniors who are out there as long as six hours. We have some great volunteers.”

Lode said her preparation for Poppy Day begins in January with the bulk of the work occurring in the final two weeks. Lode said the auxiliary understands the sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces in their effort to preserve freedom and to honor past and current service members. The members will wear a red memorial poppy as a sign of their appreciation on Memorial Day weekend.

The 900,000 members of the American Legion Auxiliary, the world’s largest patriotic service organization of women, are asking every American citizen to wear a poppy on the observance of Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, in addition to the entire preceding weekend.

“Wear it in honor of the millions of Americans who have willingly served our nation, all too many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lode. “This entire Memorial Day weekend will pay an honored tribute to all veterans, especially those who are currently serving in the war on terror.”

The poppy also honors the hospitalized and disabled veterans who hand assemble the small red flowers as a rehabilitation project each year.  The poppy continues to provide a financial and therapeutic benefit to those veterans who construct them, as well as benefiting thousands of other veterans and their families by the revenues collected from poppy distributions, Lode said.

In the battlefields of France during World War I, poppies grew wild amid the ravages of war. The overturned soils of battle enabled the poppy seeds to be covered, allowing them to flourish and forever serve as a reminder of the bloodshed of war.

The field poppy is an annual plant which flowers each year between about May and August. The seeds are disseminated on the wind and can lie dormant in the ground for a long time. If the ground is disturbed from the early spring the seeds will germinate and the poppy flowers will grow.

This is what happened in parts of the front lines in Belgium and France. Once the ground was disturbed by the fighting, the poppy seeds lying in the ground began to germinate and grow during the warm weather in the spring and summer months of 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918.

Lode, 53, who grew up in Worth, said she has assisted the auxiliary on Poppy Day for 33 years. She also plays a major role for the auxiliary by helping to organize clothing and food drives for the poor during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“I helped my mother, who did this for 25 years,” Lode said. “I would help back bags and boxes. Most of my family would help out.”

Poppy Day was inspired by the observations of a Canadian solider named John McCrae, who noticed the vibrant red flowers growing in Belgium and France in the midst of World War I. He composed a poem, “In Flanders Field” after the death of a friend about the phenomenon of the poppies growing in war-torn areas.

Today, Lode receives ample support from nieces and nephews. She said the money raised on Poppy Day is vital to assist current and past veterans.

“This is the flagship fundraiser for our veterans,” said Lode. “Without this huge fundraiser it would be difficult to provide for the veterans.

Lode said funds purchased from Poppy Days can help provide medical equipment and clothing for the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, the Edward Hines VA Hospital and the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno. Funding is also provided for the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Lode said.

She reminded residents to wear their poppies on Friday, May 26 on National Poppy Day to highlight the sacrifice of U.S. veterans of our past and today.

“We raised just under $14,000 last year and that was a big boost,” Lode said. “When we raise that amount of money, we can buy the veterans clothes, candy and toiletries. This a great help to the veterans.”