By Stephen Seitz
Sixth grader Chloe Fuller leads the Neshobe Flower Girls as they decorate the monument in Brandon Memorial Day.
By Stephen Seitz
BRANDON – All across the area, Vermont towns observed Memorial Day with speeches, parades, prayers, and, in Brandon, the Neshobe School Flower Girls, who decorated a monument in the center of town. It is a long-standing tradition.
“The Flower Girl tradition goes back 100 years,” said Ellen Knapp, a kindergarten teacher at the school. “I’ve been involved with this for 28, 29 years.”
After the parade, a group of girls from the first grade, all dressed in white, are led from the town green to the monument at an intersection in the center of town. They circle the monument and leave lilacs to remember the fallen.
“The girls seem to enjoy it,” Knapp said. “You have to be a first grade girl to do this. We hold a meeting early in April and explain to them what to do.”
Flowers provided the theme for much of Brandon’s observance.
Jean Lamarr of the Legion Auxiliary served as emcee. She said the red poppy symbolized the blood shed in the America’s wars.
“Today is a day of honor,” she said. “Today is not a happy day. Today, we honor the veterans who fought and died for us.”
The idea of the red poppy as a symbol of battlefield sacrifice goes back to Napoleon, because the poppy is one of the few plants that can thrive in the desolation of a ravaged battlefield. Its seeds are airborne, and they can lie in the ground for a long time before germinating. The significance of their abundance and bright red coloring where soldiers had fallen was lost on few.
Chaplain Burt Reynolds (no relation to the actor) told the Brandon crowd that the poppy became a remembrance flower due to the efforts of a woman named Moina Michael, who, in 1918, worked at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ headquarters in New York. A soldier had left a copy of Ladies’ Home Journal on her desk, and inside she found a copy of the famous John McCrae poem, “In Flanders Fields.”
In her autobiography, Michael wrote that she was struck by the poem’s last verse:
“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.”
Struck by the sentiment, Michael determined to always wear a red poppy of remembrance from that moment on. As she had already spent much of her own money on flowers to provide a more cheerful atmosphere to the office, some soldiers gave her money to cover the expense. She bought 25 red poppies. After that, she began a personal crusade to get the poppy adopted as a national memorial symbol.
The American Legion adopted the poppy as the U.S. national emblem of remembrance in 1920. From there, other nations across the world also adopted the memorial poppy.
Several veterans of America’s wars attended the Brandon ceremonies Monday, including Brandon resident Harold Adams. Adams served in Germany as part of the 28th Division of the 110th Infantry in 1944 and 1945, as World War II was winding down.
He recalled that German children seemed afraid of the American soldiers.
“I looked across the street and saw a little girl, about four years old,” he said. “She had blond hair and blue eyes, and I asked her name, which was Maria Han. She was terrified of me. She wouldn’t come over.
“I held out a candy bar and said, ‘Ich haben ein bonbon.’ But she didn’t dare come to my side of the street, so I left the candy bar, and she came across the street and grabbed it. She was back there the next day, same place and time, but she ran across the street. I never saw anyone as terrified in my life.
“Sometime later, I met a 15-year-old boy, who was wearing a brown shirt and carrying a knife. I had to confiscate that and tried to explain in German why he couldn’t have it. He looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you speak English?’”
“I asked him how he knew English, and he said, ‘We learned English in school.’
“’Why is everyone so afraid of us?’ I asked.
“’Because the Schulemeister [Schoolmaster] told us of all the terrible things you were going to do to us.’
“Of course, that wasn’t true, and after that, we saw them all over the place.”