Poppies, used as a symbol to remember the war dead since World War I, made a resurgence Wednesday at Viggo E. Sewer American Legion Post 131’s Veterans Day parade in Coral Bay.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row,” American Legion member Jerry Runyon read at the ceremony held following the parade.
The poem was written by Canadian physician John McCrea while serving in Belgium during World War I, and Runyon, who is 77, said was often memorized by school children when he was a child.
The poppies and the poem seemed to have fallen out of favor in recent years, but Runyon and others saw hope by the participation in the parade by Gifft Hill School students. The students all sported construction paper poppies.
“It’s about the fields in Europe,” said Gifft Hill student Emily Murrill, 13, as she marched from the Coral Bay fire station to the American Legion’s headquarters at the Coral Bay Agriculture Department.
Laurie Bottiger, who is Gifft Hill’s head of school, said the school decided to stay open on the Veterans Day federal holiday so the students could participate.
“We want students to understand it and respect it,” she said.
At the ceremony, Gifft Hill’s National Honor Society president, Genesis Dawson, presented American Legion Commander Harry Daniel with a check to help fund the organization’s efforts.
Rouse Payne, who retired as a sergeant major from the U.S. Army and now serves as an instructor in Ivanna Eudora Kean’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, was the featured speaker.
“You made our armed forces the most respected in the world,” he told the veterans attending the ceremony.
The ceremony also featured a trumpet solo by Emmanuel Boyd that featured the National Anthem and the V.I. March. Additionally, as American Legion member Henry Powell played America the Beautiful, butterflies happened to fly through the alfresco building and the audience began to sing along.
While the local government’s Veterans Affairs Office sponsored a parade in Cruz Bay on Sunday, Daniel said it was important for St. John to observe Veterans Day on the actual day, not earlier.
The parade had a good turnout. In addition to the American Legion members and the Gifft Hill students, the American Legion Auxiliary, AARP and people with no affiliation to any of those groups joined in.
Joe Mornini, who heads the Rockville, Md.-based wounded warrior group Team River Runner, was still on St. John after guiding the veterans through the kayaking ropes last week at Cinnamon Bay. He and others spoke about family members who served in the military.
Mornini said his father was a paratrooper in World War II who served in the Pacific.
“He told me only one war story,” Mornini said, adding that it concerned having to drop a grenade into a group of Japanese soldiers as he neared them in his parachute.
Jackie Clendinen, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, said she thought it was important to participate because of the sacrifices made by veterans and their family members.
“So we are free today,” she said.
Small knots of people gathered along the road to watch. Phyllis Benton, whose husband Doug Benton is an American Legion member, said her father was in the military so she grew up respecting the sacrifices.
“And I grew up in a small town, and out here is a small town feel,” she said, referring to Coral Bay parade.