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Veterans' poppy programs kick off: VFW, Legion drives support veterans needing medical help, rehabilitation

Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2009

Imitation red poppies will be popping out in entrance ways of Kenai Peninsula grocery stores beginning this week, marking the annual commemoration of Poppy Month honoring military service members who died in wars dating back to World War I.

In support of American Legion Post 20's Poppy Program, Kenai City Councilman Joe Moore declared Wednesday as "Poppy Day" during the Kenai Chamber of Commerce weekly business luncheon at the Merit Inn.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 in Soldotna began setting out donation canisters at businesses from Sterling to Soldotna, asking patrons to wear a poppy and donate what they can.

American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary members are to be staffing tables in the entrances of the Kenai Safeway and Country Foods IGA stores beginning Saturday and continuing every Saturday through the end of May, according to Crystal Trickel, poppy chairperson.

Poppies also are available at the two veterans' organization club rooms throughout the year.

"Poppies are not just for May; they're for every day," said Legion clubroom manager Sue Diaz.

Diaz said money collected from the annual poppy drive goes to veteran rehabilitation and hospitalization, and helps pay travel expenses for veterans who need assistance getting to medical appointments, whether at the Veterans Administration hospitals in Anchorage or at Elmendorf Air Force Base or in Seattle.

She said the Legion collects an average of $800 each year from its Poppy Program.

"We will be at Fred Meyers (Store) and (Soldotna) Safeway from May 22 to May 24," said Benitia Johnson, president of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.

"The money goes to our veterans in the community and to our programs like Operation UpLink and MAPS," Johnson said, explaining that Operation UpLink enables troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to communicate with friends and family through Internet cafes. MAPS, or Military Assistance Program, helps troops overseas as well as their families left behind, she said.

Though she said the VFW raises about $5,000 a year, last year it only took in $2,000.

"We didn't get our cans out over Memorial Day (weekend)," she said. "We didn't put them out until Veterans Day," which is Nov. 11 each year.

The imitation poppies are symbolic of red corn poppies that bloomed all across the Flanders landscape in Belgium following battle in World War I.

Witnessing the poppies blowing gently in the wind one morning, Army surgeon John McCrae penned "In Flanders Field," a poem still read today during Memorial Day observances around the world, particularly in the United States and Canada. McCrae was born in Ontario, Canada, and served in that country's military before relocating to Vermont and enlisting in the U.S. Army when World War I began in 1914.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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