Buchanan American Legion participates in National Poppy Day, hangs Hometown Heroes banners

BUCHANAN – Debbie Hildebrandt stood outside of Ralph Rumbaugh American Legion Buchanan Post 51, 403 E. Front St., in a tent with a heater in the unseasonably cold wind on National Poppy Day, the Friday before Memorial Day. The weather did not deter her from her mission – to receive donations for poppies to be worn on Memorial Day for the fallen veterans of Buchanan.

The poppies were made of paper and wire, and are a Memorial Day tradition for the American Legion Auxiliary. The tradition began during World War I, and is credited to Moina Michael.

Michael is said to have been inspired by a poem by a soldier, Col. John McCrae, “In Flanders Field,” according to the American Legion’s “Auxiliary” publication.

According to the American Legion’s publication, the poppy was adopted in 1921, and its national poppy program was instituted in 1924. Each poppy is made by a disabled or hospitalized veteran.
Hildebrandt was moved by Michael’s efforts and continued the tradition into 2021.

“Last year, because of COVID, we decided to do a drive-thru, and it worked out better for us,” Hildebrandt said.

For Hildebrandt, the poppy sales, Memorial Day and Veterans Day are deeply personal.

“My husband is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. My dad was in the Navy. All of my uncles served in World War I. I’ve got cousins who were in Vietnam. My family, just about every male was in the military of one branch or another,” Hildebrandt said. “I was in the reserves — that’s how I met my husband.”

In addition to the poppy sale, banners were placed on light poles throughout downtown commemorating “Buchanan’s Hometown Heroes” who have served in branches of the U.S. armed forces. The American Legion started hanging the banners last year when the city was unable to host its Memorial Day parade due to COVID-19.

“We had such an overwhelming response that we had a new batch [of banners],” Hildebrandt said. “This year, we have to put up two separate groups of banners.”
Hildebrandt is part of the group with the legion that will be working with the city of Buchanan on the banners. An initiative has been put in place to make yard signs for veterans as well.

“Some people get confused with Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is really for the fallen, but there’s a lot of us who have families in the military,” Hildebrandt said. “My goal is to see every veteran in our town having a banner in their yard.”

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