Thirty-five third graders at Webster Elementary School learned that the poppy is the official symbolic flower the American Legion uses to honor, celebrate and support America’s veterans.

Each year in May, ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary, Otis Taylor Post 96, Webster visit the school to explain the legend of the poppy and to kick off a poster contest.  

On Friday, May 4, Paula Smith, June Dopkins, Pat Beetcher and Delores Lien visited Mrs. Stubbe’s and Mrs. Richeson’s class. Wearing a sundress made of red fabric with poppies, 4-year-old Amanda Larson came along as the Poppy Princess.

“The poppies symbolize the sacrifices made by the men and women who served in the military,” explained Lien. She asked the students if they knew someone who serves in the military, at the same time introducing Gene Dopkins, who served in the Army National Guard during World War II.

Several children raised their hands, identifying family members currently serving.  Both teachers’ spouses served in the Armed Forces, a fact revealed to their classes for the first time.

According to an article in the May issue of American Legion Auxiliary magazine, Poppy Days are commemorated on Veterans Day in countries around the world. Americans have worn poppies in observance of both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. 

The American Legion brought National Poppy Day® to the United States by asking Congress to designate the Friday before Memorial Day – May 25 this year. Poppies are never sold; they are given away, but donations are welcome. 

The activity is one of several fund-raisers the ALA conducts all year. The monies are used to send comfort items to veterans’ hospitals as well as fund scholarships and student leadership programs such as Badger State.

The custom is traced back to 1918 when Mona Michael popularized the idea of wearing a poppy flower in memory of those who lost their lives in World War I. 

She drew inspiration from the poem In Flanders Fields, written by WWI Col. John McCrae in his sorrow at looking at rows and rows of graves where his comrades recently had been buried. Poppy seeds can lie dormant for years, yet bloom brilliantly when the soil is disturbed or freshly dug.

In Flanders Fields
December 8, 1915 / Col. John McCrae

In Flanders Field the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead.  Short days ago
We lived, saw dawn, felt 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 touch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

After the battles were fought in WWI, the blood-red poppies flourished in France and Belgium when battlefields became burial grounds. The red flowers suddenly bloomed among the newly dug graves of fallen service members, turning the graveyards into fields of red. 

In the early1920s, the poppy was adopted by the American Legion as its official memorial flower to honor WWI veterans and is used to this day to honor veterans of all past conflicts.

Smith invited the children to create posters illustrating what the poppies and Memorial Day means to each of them. She also suggested, “when you meet a veteran, say ‘thank you,’ and give them a hug.” 

The students will have class time to work on their entries, with teacher assistance.  The artwork will be judged by a panel at the upcoming American Legion district meeting on Saturday, May 19 in Webster. 

The posters will be displayed at the Webster Community Center during the annual ALA Memorial Day Dinner on Monday, May 28, then returned to the students.  For further information, contact Paula Smith, 715.866.4681.

Members of Webster's American Legion Auxiliary Otis Taylor Post 96 visited 3rd graders at Webster Elementary School to explain how National Poppy Day honors veterans of all wars. L-r: June Dopkins, Paula Smith, Poppy Princess Amanda Larson, Pat Beetcher and Delores Lien.  Photo credit: H. Rice

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