Veterans continue tradition a century in the making

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INDIANAPOLIS (November 11, 2015) - Local veterans continued a tradition that is recognized by many, but truly understood by few.

Members of the Greenwood VFW Post 5864 spent Veterans Day at the new Kroger store at Emerson and County Line Road, passing out little red flowers called “Buddy” Poppies.  Shoppers coming and going at the store smiled and took flowers from the veterans.  Many dropped cash donations into buckets set up by the entrance.

But most of those who carried one of the little flowers home likely didn’t realize they were part of an ongoing tradition that is a full century in the making.  One that Steve Milbourn has been part of for 42 years.

“The poppies actually started out over in France,” Milbourn said.  “And a lady handed them out to World War I veterans who were coming back.”

The red poppies are a reference to the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Colonel John McCrae, who had just witnessed a good friend killed by a German mortar.  After the poem was published, the red poppies became an international symbol of memorial for those killed in various wars.  In 1922, veterans organizations began passing out the poppies as a way to collect donations to help veterans in need.

Milbourn, who is a Vietnam War veteran, says his position as VFW Post Commander requires him to be on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He is constantly taking calls from local veterans who need financial or other assistance.

“And I’ve had people call me at two in the morning, four in the morning,” Milbourn said.  “We have people that call for water bills, gas bills, electric bills, they need gas, they need food, they need partial help on rent.”

All the donations collected at the Kroger store will go directly to veterans and their families who find themselves in those kinds of situations.

“No matter where it’s collected, what VFW, it goes back in to helping veterans out,” Milbourn said.  “The greatest thing that we can do is help another veteran, or the family of another veteran.”

Milbourn said he was also glad to see the younger generation of veterans helping to hand out the flowers.

“It’s very encouraging to see the younger people because they’re the ones that are going to have to take over when we’re gone,” Milbourn said.

“It’s heartwarming to know the fact that this money is actually going towards needed families, or families who need it,” said Iraq War veteran David Scholl.

Milbourn and his group were hoping to raise about a thousand dollars at their location on Veterans Day.  It’s a small part of a much larger effort around the world, where more than $10 million are raised through “Buddy” Poppy distributions.

Milbourn says he hopes the next time somebody smiles and takes a flower, they will also realize the historical significance of the flower.  That history, he says, gives the poppy fundraising effort a much deeper meaning.

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