Red poppies handed out by local American Legion Auxiliaries... but what do they symbolize?

Red poppies ready to be handed out in Neenah on May 19th, 2017. (WLUK/Alexa Santos)

NEENAH (WLUK) -- All around our state this month, you may see veterans' groups distributing poppies.

May is poppy month for the American Legion Auxiliary.

And the little flowers, actually have a pretty big meaning.

Two Vietnam veterans, Bob Borszich and Gail Minks, spent the day Friday feeling grateful.

"It means a lot," Minks said.

Grateful that they're being remembered for their service now... as opposed to what it was like when they returned nearly 50 years ago.

Minks said, "The servicemen that were returning from overseas, they were so disrespected... spit on."

Friday, the men were two of many volunteers around Neenah, handing out poppies to honor veterans -- both alive and gone.

Dawn Zimmerman, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 33, said, "They've sacrificed so much to preserve our freedoms for this country, and we want to recognize them any way that we can."

But why poppies?

Lawrence University Professor Jerald Podair explains.

"World War I was an especially brutal war. America lost 116,000 men," Podair said.

Podair says after the war, a poem called "In Flanders Fields" symbolized this devastation with the red poppy.

"The peaceful nature of the fields in Belgium, the flowers, with the brutal amount of killing that was going on there," Podair said. "Sometimes poets appreciate irony, and there's certainly irony there."

Today, the poppy has come to recognize the sacrifice of veterans in all wars.

Podair said, "Memorial day and the poppy are combined symbols, and combined commemorations of the enormous price Americans have paid to keep this country as it is. And it's something we should never take for granted."

These vets say after seeing people interested in the poppies, they don't feel taken for granted one bit.

Bob Borszich, current Post Commander for the American Legion Auxiliary, said, "I think it's really great that people come out and honor those people that lost their lives for this country."

A small reminder that can go a long way.

The poppies are free.

But donations to the American Legion Auxiliary are accepted.

The money goes toward assisting current veterans and their needs.

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