For many Americans, it starts with wearing the poppy on National Poppy Day, an annual tribute to the price of freedom. This year, National Poppy Day is May 25.
For Ann Fournier, it starts with a train ride. She has taken the same train at 5 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. daily for 30 years. She spends her hour-long commutes piecing together tiny petals of red crepe paper to assemble poppies to support veterans.
Fournier’s work has made her a symbol on the train. Known as the “Poppy Lady,” she has created 100,000 poppies each year over several decades. Her commitment began as a tribute to her brothers, who served during Vietnam, but has continued as a way to honor each veteran and civilian she has met on her ride to the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) state headquarters in Boston.
“The conductor saves a seat with a table for me every day,” says Fournier, who serves as ALA Department of Massachusetts secretary/executive director. “He’s a veteran as well. Sometimes he sits with me to help. Sometimes strangers ask me what I’m doing. But the best moments happen when a veteran sits down or thanks me. I don’t do it for the thanks; I do it because I can, and these little red flowers are a way to help those in need. Our veterans don’t get enough of anything.”
The red poppy holds great meaning for veterans all over the world. After the battles of World War I, the blood-red poppy flourished in France and Belgium when battlefields became burial grounds. The red flowers suddenly bloomed among the newly dug gravesites of fallen servicemembers, turning the new graveyards into fields of red. Today, the poppy is a symbol of sacrifices made from WWI to today’s war on terror.
Millions of people worldwide wear the red poppy as a call to honor living veterans and those who lost their lives. The tradition can be traced back to 1918 when Moina Michael popularized the idea of wearing a poppy flower in memory of the military lives lost in WWI. She drew inspiration from the poem In Flanders Fields, written by WWI Col. John McCrae as he gazed at the rows and rows of graves where his comrades had been recently buried. In the decades that followed, poppies have been worn, displayed and distributed for fundraising efforts for veterans service organizations around the world.
The American Legion Family is the driving force behind the now trademarked National Poppy Day because of its support for veterans and long-standing connection to the poppy flower. In the early 1920s, the Legion Family adopted the poppy as its official memorial flower to pay homage to the battlefields of WWI. Now, it is the Family’s mission to support the military community by promoting the significance of the flower and the meaning behind it.
Members and volunteers connected to the ALA, one of the nation’s most prominent supporters of veterans’ rights, leverage the poppy in service to the veteran community through Poppy Day distributions and outreach. ALA volunteers hand out red paper or fabric poppies in exchange for donations that go directly to support veterans. Many of those poppies are made by hospitalized and disabled veterans as a form of rehabilitation and a source of income through this ALA program. In 2017, ALA members throughout the U.S. distributed nearly 6 million poppies or poppy items and raised $3.9 million in donations that went directly to help veterans, military, and their families.
“This flower is personal to me,” says Fournier. “Because of it, I’ve been able to share stories about our veterans and the ALA’s work. I’ve also been able to explain that helping a veteran can be as simple as donating money in exchange for a poppy or as committed as making 100,000 poppies each year. It’s about what you can do to help.”
Donning a poppy this National Poppy Day and every day is one simple way to show gratitude for a community that has given its lives to protect ours. To learn more, visit www.poppydayusa.org.
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