Poppy Tradition Continues to Flower

May 20, 2003 11:00 pm

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Havanna Dowdy smooths back her hair, adjusting the crimson paper poppy tucked into her ponytail.

"Does it look better like this or like this?" she asks her mother, Hayden Rambo, as the six-year-old removes a clip from her hair.

"I'm shy for the mayor," Havanna whispers.

"She's been talking about this non-stop for a month," Hayden Rambo said.

Havanna holds a basket overflowing with poppies — the flat flower of the VFW intertwined with the rose-like poppy of the American Legion.

Soon Legion poppy girl Ashlley Whited, 4, joins Havanna, holding her own basket of symbolic red flowers.

Both girls wait quietly to meet Baker City Mayor Peter Ellingson for the official kickoff of this year's poppy sales.

Beginning Thursday, volunteers from the VFW and Legion will distribute poppies throughout the community, encouraging everyone to remember the veterans and soldiers who fought in past wars, and those currently serving in the armed forces.

The VFW drive lasts until Memorial Day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The American Legion drive will cover three days, ending Saturday.

There's no price tag attached to each poppy stem, but the veterans organizations will accept donations, said Marge Hall, poppy chairman for the Anthony Lakes VFW Post 3048.

According to a history provided by the VFW, the poppy drive was based on the poem "In Flanders Fields." The poem by Col. John McCrae begins with "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row."

The first nationwide VFW poppy distribution drive was in 1922. Then, in 1923, disabled and needy veterans began to assemble the poppies, receiving a wage for their efforts.

The American Legion instigated its nationwide poppy distribution in 1923, also employing veterans to construct the flowers.

Since then, disabled and hospitalized veterans are paid to assemble the poppies each year.

All proceeds earned from the sales are used locally for veteran services and welfare.

The VFW and American Legion exchange 2,000 poppies, intertwining the two stems to combine the efforts of both organizations.