Poppy Days are here again.
The Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Post 137 resumed the semi-annual tradition of collecting donations in return for red paper poppies this weekend.
It’s a salute to veterans, both living and deceased, according to the national American Legion Auxiliary.
It all started in 1918, when soldiers who served in France in World War I returned home and told of the hardy flowers popping up amid the trenches, craters and otherwise barren battlefield landscape. After reading a poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields,” a New York City woman, Moina Michael, was so moved she bought a bouquet of poppies and handed them out to businessmen attending a meeting at the YMCA, according to the auxiliary.
Michael asked them to wear the poppies as a tribute to fallen soldiers, and the tradition was born. Later, she led a movement that resulted in the adoption of the poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice.
Gail Austin, treasurer of the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Post 137, said she’s been involved with the poppy program since 1980.
“The vets make these poppies right at the VAs,” she said. “They’re an honor for the veterans … as well as the widows and orphans.”
Veteran Charles Bleyl, of Gloversville, said he recalls asking his father about the poppy.
“I remember I was in McNab [Elementary School] in the fifth grade. My father explained it,” he said.
The same scene played out at Naif’s Grocery on North Main Street early Friday afternoon, where Kenny Swarts of Gloversville was collecting donations and handing out poppies.
Isaack Shaffer, 7, and his grandmother, Cindy Shaffer, stopped and Cindy gave the youngster a dollar to put in Swarts’ can. In return, he got a poppy.
Asked about the significance of the flower, he smiled and began to read from the paper ribbon attached to the stem. “American Legion. In memory,” he said ever so slowly.
“It means you support them,” his grandmother explained.
Swarts, a Navy veteran and member of Post 137, said he’s been doling out poppies since returning from Vietnam in the late 1960s.
“What it means to me is it helps children and all kinds of organizations,” he said. “It’s all charity.”
He sold out in two hours Friday morning and returned to the post for a beer and another bouquet around noon.
Eddy Abraham of Naif’s Grocery said he’s more than happy to accommodate the request from the auxiliary to allow someone to distribute poppies in front of the store.
“I’m happy to let Kenny stand out there. I think he feels like it’s his civic duty to do it and I’m happy to have him there,” he said.
And donations have jumped since the terror attacks of 2001.
“Since 9/11 you’ve seen people not declining to purchase them,” Abraham said.
Bradley Hayner of Johnstown, a Korean War veteran who served in the Navy, stuck a few bucks in Swarts’ can and Swarts tried to give him a couple of poppies.
“Only one,” said Hayner, who added that he donates to the poppy drive every year.
Carl Locatelli of Gloversville, a crossing guard at McNab, said he does, too.
“It’s my way of supporting the veterans,” he said.
While not a veteran himself, Locatelli said he has many friends who are. He said he’s also played Taps for many years at the legion’s request for veterans who have died.
“That was always important to me,” he said.
Members of the legion post and the auxiliary will have poppies at a number of area locations through Monday, including Naif’s, Hannaford, the Post Office and Wal-Mart, Austin said.
Anyone who doesn’t have the opportunity to get one this spring will have another chance in the fall when Veterans Day rolls around, she said.
Millions of the paper poppies are sold nationally, according to the national American Legion Auxiliary. In Gloversville and Johnstown alone, thousands of poppies are sold every year.