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Red remembrance: Clark County groups craft paper poppies to remember WWI’s fallen

By , Columbian staff writer
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American Legion Auxiliary Smith-Reynolds Post 14  members Audrey Hoff, from left, Claudette Bevill and Sharon Dow outline the process of crafting and selling poppies in preparation for National Poppy Day. The annual recognition occurs every Friday before Memorial Day, which is May 27 this year.
American Legion Auxiliary Smith-Reynolds Post 14 members Audrey Hoff, from left, Claudette Bevill and Sharon Dow outline the process of crafting and selling poppies in preparation for National Poppy Day. The annual recognition occurs every Friday before Memorial Day, which is May 27 this year. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Vibrant red poppies, symbolizing bloodshed from World War I, must be assembled delicately.

Four ironed paper petals must neatly wrap around a green wire with a paper pistil at its end. The task is tedious and can be difficult for aged hands, but it’s an essential undertaking for American Legion Auxiliary members, who usually begin the assembly in January.

It has been a practice for more than 100 years to commemorate those who died during their military service. From May 16-21, American Legion Auxiliary Smith-Reynolds Post 14 members will distribute the flowers leading up to National Poppy Day on May 27. But before then, thousands must be assembled.

Unroll green and red papers. Bend wire. Wrap petals. Slide on a label. Repeat.

“It’s good to have backup,” said Gloria Cummings, Auxiliary Post 14 president.

The poppy-making process is a rhythmic activity that Claudette Belvill, an Auxiliary Post 14 member and former U.S. Navy yeoman, enjoys doing with her friends. With a comfortable seat and an entertaining TV show, she can easily craft thousands in a few sessions.

For member Audrey Hoff, arthritic hands hinder her from making the flowers, but she claims the responsibility of printing labels to adorn the craft. All Auxiliary Post 14’s estimated 100 members were called to participate in poppy season in some way — whether by crafting poppies, distributing them or spreading the word about the cause.

On average, Auxiliary Post 14 collects about $7,000 through poppy distributions that only last a couple days every year at select locations.

POPPY DISTRIBUTION

American Legion Post 14, 4607 N.E. St. James Rd., during business hours May 16-21

Hazel Dell Parade of Bands, 8800 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., 10 a.m., May 21

Select Fred Meyers and Hi-School Pharmacy locations, contact 360-696-2579 for more details

Contributions from the crafted poppies, distributed exclusively in the days leading up to Memorial Day, are solely dedicated to veteran rehabilitation and assistance programs, said Sharon Dow, Post 14’s poppy chairman.

“We just ask if (people) would like to wear one,” she continued, “we never ask for money, ever — it’s donation only.”

This year, the members upgraded their poppy outreach from being indoors to carrying a donation basket during the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands on May 21. Hopefully, this will increase donations, which were sparse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dow said.

Similarly to the auxiliary group, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7824 will host its own Buddy Poppy event 10 a.m. May 21 at Vancouver Mall. Disabled veterans in VA hospitals are compensated to assemble the poppies that are distributed by the VFW, and proceeds are returned to benefit vets, according to the VFW’s website.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle read from a proclamation during a city council meeting on May 9 to address the beginning of poppy season. Women from Post 14 gave the red flowers to the mayor and other council members to support the occasion.

“We ask our community to remember the sacrifice our veterans have made for America by wearing a poppy during this time. The Memorial Poppy is not only a tribute to those lost in war, but it also honors living veterans and helps with some of their rehabilitation,” McEnerny-Ogle read.

At the meeting, an attendee placed a $50 bill in Cummings’ hand as a donation — kicking off the fundraising.

A lasting tradition

In 1918, Moina Michael, a university professor, tirelessly campaigned for the red poppy recognition, which eventually led to the creation of current fundraising efforts.

She was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae, a Canadian World War I soldier who wrote the elegy after seeing blooming poppies among soldiers’ graves in Belgium and France, Cummings said.

Red poppies became an official symbol to memorialize soldiers in 1920, and the American Legion established the national program to distribute them shortly after, according to the organization.

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