“The American Legion is pleased to bring Poppy Day to the United States, joining countries around the world who use the symbolic flower to remember our fallen and support the living,” American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said.
This year, the Boeing Company is premier sponsor to help The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion and American Legion Riders increase public understanding of the poppy, its meaning and the ways in which it can be used to help veterans today and remember those who have served in the past.
The American Legion Auxiliary has been conducting a Poppy Program for many years and their members’ raise over $6 million annually to provide support for veterans, military servicemembers and their families.
“By wearing poppies on May 26, we honor every U.S. servicemember who has given his or her life in the name of liberty, freedom and democracy,” Schmidt wrote in the May issue of The American Legion Magazine. “At the same time, by wearing this simple red flower, we show our support for veterans of generations to come.”
A new website at www.legion.org/poppyday offers multiple ways The American Legion Family can expand awareness locally and regionally. Included on the site are media tools, message points, sample proclamations for elected officials and easy access to the American Legion Emblem Sales “Poppy Shop,” which offers an assortment of affordable items including the new National Poppy Day pin, kits for making lapel poppies for distribution, fundraising containers, charms, scarves and more.
Also through the website, National Poppy Day donors can make safe, secure contributions with their credit cards and dedicate their gifts to personally honor veterans now living or in memory of those who have passed. All donations directly support military veterans and families through American Legion programs.
The site also provides, under the heading “Get Involved,” a new set of media tools and promotions that can be modified for local use, including press releases, sample social media posts and downloadable high-resolution graphics. The “History” section of the site has a full-color, downloadable poster featuring the poem “In Flanders Fields,” which led to the red poppy’s emergence as an international symbol of military sacrifice.
American Legion Family members who plan poppy distributions and similar commemorations around May 26 and the week leading into Memorial Day are urged to use the hashtags #PoppyDay and #LegionFamily so activities can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
American Legion Riders participating in their annual Run to Thunder event in Washington, D.C., as well as chapters conducting local rides heading into Memorial Day weekend, are also planning to make the red poppy a visible symbol of sacrifice and encouraging the public to wear or otherwise display poppies to honor those who have served.
The American Legion designated the red poppy as its official flower at the organization’s second national convention, Sept. 27, 1920. Since then, members of The American Legion Family have raised awareness in communities, inspired by the 1915 poem of Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., who saw firsthand from the front lines of World War I the emergence of red poppies around the graves and in the battle zones where blood was shed to protect freedom and democracy. He put that image into words:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
A video from the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball in January 2017 features Korean War veteran, California Legionnaire and actor James McEachin onstage reciting the complete poem, which was written in May 1915 and published on Dec. 8 of that year.
National Commander: Department of Veterans Affairs’s Disarming Policy Must Go
Unfair treatment for Guard and reserves
“People can look at me and say, ‘Charlie, you look pretty healthy. You have health insurance. Why do you need your own health care system?' I just tell them, it’s not about me. It’s about millions of veterans who do need VA health care.” Schmidt, who is meeting with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thursday, said that timely VA health care should be available to all veterans who wish to use it.
“During his confirmation hearings as VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin promised greater accountability, improved access, responsiveness and expanded access within his department. He has said that he opposes privatization and that it would not happen under his watch. The American Legion has so far been impressed with Secretary Shulkin but we do plan to hold his feet to the fire to help him deliver on those promises.”
While Schmidt said he recognizes the value of the VA “choice” program in some instances, he reiterated The American Legion’s concerns about outsourcing care. “There are instances when a private provider is a better option for some veterans. For instance, I live in Hines, Ore., which is more than 200 miles from the nearest VA hospital. In other cases – and these instances are getting fewer – veterans have had to wait far too long to be seen by the VA. So while The American Legion supports choice in some instances, let us not be fooled into believing that there are not some serious flaws with the Choice program. Delays, nonreimbursement for services and bureaucratic entanglements are constant experiences for many who have attempted to use the Choice program.”
He renewed the organization’s push for modernization of the disability claims process and chided the U.S. Senate for failing to act on it during the last Congress. “According to VA’s own 2016 numbers, nearly half a million appeals claims were waiting to be finally adjudicated. More than 80,000 claims were waiting for greater than 125 days. The American Legion finds this completely unacceptable. We believe the appeals modernization legislation, H.R. 457 introduced by Rep. Dina Titus, will simplify and speed up the process as well as make it more transparent. The House did its job in the last Congress, but the Senate refused to move on it.”
Schmidt also expressed concern for veterans exposed to environmental hazards during their military service.
“Many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are still not covered for benefits due to the dates or locations that they served. Storing and handling Agent Orange could be just as damaging to their health as spraying it. We are also seeing high cancer rates among servicemembers who participated in the clean-up work at Enewetak Atoll in the late 1970s. The atomic testing occurred in the 1940s and ‘50s, but plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. Yet their request for assistance is routinely denied by the federal government.”
National security, immigration and the Flag amendment were also addressed at the press conference. “The American Legion welcomes President Trump’s promise to rebuild our military. More than half of all Marine Corps aircraft were unflyable this past December,” Schmidt said before shifting his focus to terrorism. He cited the 9/11 Commission report which faulted the U.S. government for having a “failure of imagination,” when dealing with terrorist plots. “It certainly is not hard to imagine that ISIS operatives would try to enter our country by claiming to be refugees. How do we know this? Because they openly say they will. And when mobs chant 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel' it isn’t hard to imagine their ultimate goals.”
He pointed out that it is the president and not the courts that have the “ultimate and constitutionally-mandated responsibility to keep us safe.”
Concerned about frequent and well-publicized incidents of flag desecration by protestors, Schmidt addressed one of the counter-arguments to the Flag amendment head-on. “The major argument that opponents of the amendment use is that desecration hardly ever happens. I challenge these desecration-deniers to Google it. They will find thousands of images of protestors doing just that.
“Some in Congress say the Flag amendment is a waste of their time and they have more pressing issues. My response: Pass it and we won’t waste your time anymore! Otherwise you will continue to hear from us.”
Schmidt also defended the media during luncheon remarks at the National Press Club American Legion Post 20. Jokingly referring to a recent Trump tweet about the press, Schmidt said, “You are not the enemies of America.” He cited legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Heart’s strong support for the GI Bill in the 1940s, and, more recently, coverage of VA wait time scandals as instances where The American Legion and the media shared common goals.
Membership goal: 110 percent
Help us account for our missing
A new year for improved Legion awareness
As your national commander, it is my goal and responsibility to continue encouraging you to help the membership thermometer rise to 100,000 new members for 2016-2017. Because we must turn membership around.
We currently have more than 21,000 new members, and click here to see a list of who will be receiving a commander's pin for recruiting.
When membership was at a high of nearly three million members 27 years ago, it was because World War I and II veterans had a mission to make sure that no veteran was left behind; that no veteran lacked the medical care that he or she needed. They didn’t care about the cost of membership; all they cared about was the price that was paid to be eligible for membership.
To support the Legion’s five-year strategic plan, and encourage growth, I have three membership incentives. They include a commander’s "Carry the Legacy Forward" pin to any Legion member who obtains three new members for 2017; an honor ribbon for any Legion Family that achieves 100 percent membership by May 30; and a monetary award for the department with the largest percentage increase of new members from Jan. 1 to May 31.
We cannot experience a culture of growth if we do not convince our existing members that renewal in our organization is in their own personal interest, as well as the interest of their fellow veterans and community members. We need to carry the Legion legacy forward; we need Legionnaires in order to keep that legacy alive. And it’s a great legacy that The American Legion has built.
But remember, while membership incentives are a few of the perks to recruiting, it’s not always about earning rewards. It’s about making sure that every veteran has a place to go to find the people who understand what their experience has meant. It’s ensuring that we have enough resources to provide for every veteran, spouse and child so they can all enjoy the American dream that they themselves helped pay for.