Friday, October 06, 2006

The Vietnam Vet and the Buddy Poppy

There's a Vietnam Vet who lives in my neighborhood and I see him almost everyday. He walks up to our local shopping center limping like a person who's had a stroke. And when he speaks, again, you wonder if he's had a stroke. His name is Robert and he's a Marine.

His job is selling VFW red Buddy Poppies and American flags. He sells them year-round, not just when it gets close to Veterans' Day. He sits in front of the Chase bank and calls out "paah-pies," "paah-pies." It's a mournful sound which I'm sure he doesn't intend. When he sees me and I wave, he smiles a big smile and calls out "HI!"

I used to buy a poppy every time I saw him (the poppies began piling up on my car dashboard) but after a time he refused to take my money and I told him to give the flower to the next person who came along.

The VFW pays him $100 bucks a month, he tells me, and because he's disabled, the Marines, I assume, make disability payments. I haven't been able to bring myself to ask him how he was hurt in Vietnam.

Yesterday I asked him if he was one of the top sellers of poppies and American flags for the VFW and he laughed awkwardly and loud: "I make $83,000 dollars a year for them!" he said. "I'm top in the nation, in the world...maybe the universe!" I laughed.

Yes Robert, you are the top...the teach

The red Buddy Poppy became associated with war after the publication of a poem by Col. John McCrae of Canada in 1915:

In Flanders Field

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.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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