When Chaplain (Col.) Robert Nay, Security Assistance Command, was asked to be the guest speaker at the 13th annual North Alabama Center for Educational Excellence’s Veterans Appreciation Luncheon, he knew he would focus his remarks on the simple story of the poppy.
As Nay stood in front of the large group he explained that the poppy was used by the Europeans to remember Armistice Day, every Nov. 11. Wearing red poppy poppies was a way to honor the civilian and military personnel who lost their lives in wars.
It seemed that after World War I, the poppy flourished in battlefields across Western Europe, a visible reminder of the millions of lives lost. Scientists would say the cause was an increase in lime from the rubble of war.
It was in 1915, on the front lines of battle in WWI, that Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian doctor, immortalized the symbol of the poppy in his poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Since the 1920s the remembrance poppy has been used by the American Legion on Memorial Day to represent the nation’s fallen.
“Red represents the blood spilled, black for the mourning that families suffered, and then there is the green leaf, which should be focused on the 11th hour,” Nay noted. “It’s those little details, like the direction the green leaf is pointing, that when missed, removes an important part of any story.
“As we honor our veterans it is important that that we remember them, but also that we continue to tell their stories and those little details.”
Nay related his experiences as an observer controller at the National Training Center, coaching and teaching all the chaplains and religious affairs personnel at the height of the surge for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“One of the things I found out at NTC is that some Soldiers’ concepts of history went back to their last deployments,” he said. “That’s why we need to study our history and have people to teach that history.”
History is so important, in fact, that U.S. military leaders are required to study it to learn from the success and failures of the past.
Nay urged audience members to honor veterans this and every year by never forgetting their sacrifices.
“As we honor the service of our men and women in the armed forces, it is imperative to tell the stories and inform those who have forgotten the past,” he said, “teaching the details so that it never happens again.
“Those of you here, through your efforts to help our military and veterans get their education, are empowering our troops. And with the tools you have helped them acquire, they will go far. They will reinvest into our communities. They will remember their history. And you will remember their sacrifice. And we will move forward together, a grateful nation.”
Editor’s note: The North Alabama Center for Educational Excellence is a Huntsville-based nonprofit organization that has served more than 1,500 veterans through their Veterans Upward Bound. The program provides career counseling, financial aid assistance, tutoring, academic counseling and skills development.