"In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row," wrote Colonel John McCrae in 1915 after seeing the sea of red poppies blooming on the battlefields of World War I.
Today, the poppy is the flower of remembrance for those who died in wartime, and in Steamboat Springs, women from the American Legion Auxiliary Post 44 will distribute handmade poppies throughout the day at such places as Safeway, City Market and Routt 66 gas station. They will donate all the money raised to benefit veterans.
"We give out the poppies in memory of our veterans, lest we forget," said 82-year-old Eunice Dorr, secretary of the Post 44 Auxiliary and a 59-year member. "It's to remind people that many people made some big sacrifices."
Although the volunteers do not sell the poppies, which are made by hand by disabled veterans, they do accept donations for them. "All the money goes to the veterans," said 74-year-old Betty Kemry, the poppy chairman and a 50-year auxiliary member. She suggests people donate whatever they feel comfortable with.
"There was a time when if we got 10 cents, we would think we had done very well. Now, people usually give $1 or $5."
Last year, the local auxiliary distributed 400 poppies and raised more than $500, which it then donated to veterans' hospitals and nursing homes in Grand Junction, Rifle and Denver and to a local veteran in Steamboat. Nationwide, the American Legion Auxiliary gave out more than six million poppies and raised more than $2 million to benefit veterans.
Recently, the addition of 16 new members to the Steamboat Springs auxiliary has injected new energy into the group's efforts, and Dorr and Kemry say it's about time.
"Most of us are in our 80s. We're tired now," Dorr joked. "We want some new people to take over."
Dorr said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may have contributed to the increased membership.
"I think Sept. 11 has had something to do with bringing patriotism back in to people's lives, and they recognize that the work these organizations do is really good work to help veterans," she said.
Kemry added that the group has been "getting out there and beating the bush" for new members.
Along with the auxiliary's expansion, community involvement in Memorial Day also has grown. Kemry said many residents leave town for the weekend, which is why the group will distribute the flowers today. But she said more people are sticking around for local events.
"You usually just didn't hardly see anyone on Memorial Day," Kemry said. "But we had more people at the cemetery last year than I've ever seen."
She said she hopes that community concern will continue to grow.
This year, the group ordered 100 more poppies than in 2003. "Next year, they'll probably order even more poppies," she said, "and that will be a good thing."