Red Poppies for Memorial Day

Ever since WWI, the red poppy has become a symbol of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The image comes from a poem called In Flanders Field by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian veteran of The Great War. Because of this, the American Legion Auxiliary Willow Glen Post 318 is having their annual red poppy fundraiser, which takes place every spring before Memorial Day. Veterans in hospitals and rest homes are employed by the American Legion to make red poppies out of crepe paper, which the Legion hands out for donations to disabled and hospitalized veterans.

This year is a little different though, because it’s the first year of Red Poppy Day, a new holiday that asks people to wear the little crimson flowers (whether real or paper) on their shirts the Friday before Memorial Day. Since the Monday of Memorial Day is a federal holiday, this new practice hopes to increase the visibility of veterans and the special concerns and care that group needs and is owed. In years past, the flowers made by Post 318 were handed out at Memorial Day ceremonies and events on Monday, but this year they’ll be passed out on Friday as well.

And at each event, World War II and Korean War veteran Joe Pacheco will be one of the participants handing them out. “They take me whenever something’s going on,” he says. That’s because Pacheco is the last WWII veteran left in the Willow Glen Post. The 90 year old is often invited to speak at schools as well, where students listen to his tales of serving in the South Pacific.

His story speaks to the need for veterans to receive both medical and mental health services upon their return stateside. Pacheco still has bouts of PTSD every once in awhile. “You wake up, if you hear a banging, you damn near jump out of your chair. You sweat; it’s something you never get relief from.” However, Pacheco says his time in the armed forces is not something he regrets at all. “In the 90 years that I am, I got to see all the things that happened in the world that nobody else could see. I’ve been through it all. I’m lucky to see that I could see it. You will never, ever see some of the things that I’ve seen. I’m proud because I fought for my country. I love my country.”