We grew up in the 1950s and ’60s with the annual sale of those then-familiar red poppies. Veterans from World Wars I and II stood on the street corners, smartly dressed in their uniforms, poppies in one hand and a collection can in the other. It was rare to see people in uniform then, and when you did, it tended to be a mixture of somber celebration. Over the years, various veterans visited our schools to share their stories. Sometimes they showed up in their uniform, sometimes not. Either way, these heroes – our local baker, shoemaker, real estate agent, and others – all of them made history more real to us, with their accounts of surviving the Bataan Death March, or the Battle of the Bulge, or Midway. It would take years before I better understood what those experiences cost them, in terms of their loss and pain and grief.
In my desk drawer, I keep as a reminder one of these bright-red flowers with the green cluster center and sage-colored twist-wrap wire stem. I kept the little paper tag on it. The front of it says, “Buddy” Poppy®. Wear it proudly.” The back says, “Proceeds to the Veteran of Foreign Wars for Veterans Assistance Programs.” You may not have seen one of these before, so I include here a picture of the Buddy Poppy I keep in my drawer. This one is vintage mid-2000s. Somewhere in storage, I’m sure I have one that is decades older …
Conflict is a difficult thing. I believe our hearts naturally long for peace. It’s just part of our God-given design. And yet, things are rarely at peace, and it is the sad irony that war does not bring lasting peace. Still, we have benefited from both obvious and behind-the-scenes service provided by the sacrifices of current members of our military, our veterans, and their families. I am reminded of the inscription at the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial: “For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” I will never fully know the meaning of this, but today, I’m adding my thanks for the men and women who have sought to restore hope and to protect the possibilities of freedom for the future.
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ADDENDUM Veteran’s Day 2015. I posted the above article and photo early today on my Facebook page, and ended up connecting with a dear friend for whom these Buddy Poppies are especially meaningful. When she was growing up, her father made sure she had one each year. Her collection was lost years ago, so she didn’t have any anymore. We just got together for coffee this morning, and I gave her mine so she’d have one. For many of us, one way we’re “wired” to retrieve memories is through seeing or holding physical objects. That act sparks recollections. And we had a great time over coffee, sharing remembrances of our Dads and their military service and how the war affected them. She took this photo with her phone and I’m posting it here so you can see the reverse side of the Buddy Poppy.
P.S. I’ve been blogging on WordPress since 2007, this article originally posted in 2011, and it has consistently been among the top searches that lead people to this blog.