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VFW members hand out red poppies to honor veterans

CONYERS - Wars come and go, but the red poppies endure. Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 5290, in Conyers are handing the small flowers out this weekend as a reminder of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to raise money for disabled veterans who returned from those wars.

Called the Buddy Poppy, the program has helped the VFW to live up to its motto, "to honor the dead by helping the living." The red poppy came about from a poem about the small flower growing in a former World War I battlefield turned into an Allied cemetery in Flanders, Belgium.

The poem, "In Flanders Field," noted how the red poppies grew "between the crosses, row on row" in the cemetery. The red poppy was soon appropriated as a memorial flower by the VFW. Veteran groups in Canada, France, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand also hand out red poppies.

Chuck Koons, senior vice VFW post commander, said people may take the message behind the poppies for granted because they have become so ubiquitous from the millions handed out each year across the country.

"The last veterans from World War I are dying out, or have all passed on," Koons said. "But we still have veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and now Iraq. We're trying to do something to let people know about them and what the poppies mean."

VFW post members will be out in force throughout the three-day Memorial Day weekend handing out poppies at the Conyers Wal-Mart, Kroger at Ga. Highway 138 and the Piggly Wiggly on West Avenue.

The Conyers VFW Post 5290 has handed out poppies for more than 50 years. The Buddy Poppy program is a fundraising effort, too. The group hands out poppies to anyone who wants one, and only asks for donations to help disabled veterans and their families, said Jim Strickland, Post 5290 facilities commander.

April White of Covington was among the several shoppers at Wal-Mart on Friday who stopped by the veterans' table to receive a red flower. She also reached in her wallet and placed a couple of dollars in a jar on the table.

"I'm doing this for my father," White said, whose father served in the Navy for 15 years. She also has a daughter who served in the National Guard for two years before heading off to college.

Koons said the response is always good for those coming up to the table.

"A lot of people will say they're retired from the military or they served and they're glad to give," he said.

Others, however, keep their distance and stare at the table covered in plastic, red poppies, appearing to try to figure out what the veterans are doing and then walk on. As people gear up for the Memorial Day weekend, Koons and the others veterans said they hoped people will take a moment to remember those who have died in military service for this country.

Koons said the red poppy, with a small donation if people want to give, is a small way to honor those who died in war and help others who served and returned home.

"If they ask what (the poppies) are, we're glad to tell them all about them," Koons said. "But if they don't want to talk to us, well, all we can do is to be nice and wish them a good day."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.