Monday, May 26, 2014

Daddy and the poppies

Image courtesy of dan /

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13 (NIV)
One of the earliest memories I have is of my father “buying” me a poppy from a man in a military uniform outside our church on a Sunday morning. As I grew older, I came to understand that when Dad put money in the can, he was donating to a local veterans’ organization.
A World War II veteran of the US Army, my father didn’t talk about his service. He’d been defending the continental United States on the godforsaken island of Attu when he was wounded. Shrapnel in his spine left him recuperating in a VA hospital for a year.
How I wish I would have asked more questions! But I was young with my own life ahead of me, and had little, if any, interest in something that didn’t directly affect me.
Now I regret that selfish attitude. At 62, I realize my roots are as important as my wings. I have plenty of questions now. Where was he stationed? What was his Army job? I know he’d attained the rank of sergeant but little else. I may never know this side of eternity. My parents, and that generation of relatives who could have given me answers, are all gone now.
I wrote to the Veteran’s Administration for my dad’s service records, but unfortunately a fire had destroyed them. I researched “Attu” online and learned that had the Japanese won that historic battle on the westernmost Aleutian island, we may well have fought World War II on continental American soil. I sent for the DVD of the PBS documentary, Red, White, Black, and Blue, “a wrenching look at a forgotten battle.”
But I’d rather have the story from my father’s point of view. It would mean so much more to me.
So every year, in memory of my father, I “buy” a poppy and entwine it on my purse. If I have a grandchild with me, I get one for them, too.
“My daddy—your great-grandfather—always got me a poppy,” I say. “Do you know where the idea for poppies came from?” 
Then I tell them about the poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae in 1915, during World War I: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row.”
I tell them about Moina Michael, who, in response to McCrae’s poem, went out and bought a bouquet of poppies and distributed them, asking that they be worn in tribute to the fallen. Donations were given to servicemen in need.
If I still have their attention—and I make sure I do—I recite the verse she penned: “We cherish, too, the poppy red That grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies That blood of heroes never dies, But lends a luster to the red Of the flower that blooms above the dead in Flanders Field.”
“And today,” I say, concluding the brief history lesson, “red poppies are made by disabled veterans in hospitals, with the donations going to support a variety of veterans’ organizations.”
And then I give them a poppy.
Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. - Proverbs 3:3
Father, let the poppy also remind us of the sacrifice Your Son made for our eternal freedom. Amen.



  1. Love this sweet story and the photo of your father. I too regret all the things I didn't think to ask while my parents were still living. Your grandchildren are blessed to have you carrying on this tradition of the poppies.

  2. Love this, Michele. I reminds me of the many servicemen and women in my family and the poppies we wore as children to celebrate them.