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Remember the past, help those in the present

Not a single one is still alive.

The last died in 2012, age 110. Florence Green was a British woman who served in the Allied armed forces in World War I. The last combat veteran to die was Claude Choules, a member of the British-Australian Royal Navy. Also 110 years old, he died in 2011.

The last United States veteran of The Great War was Frank Buckles, who joined the Army at age 16. He told one recruiter he was 18, and the man didn’t believe him — told him to go home before his mom noticed he was gone. But the second recruiter believed him when he said was 21 and signed him up. He survived the war driving ambulances and casualty motorcycles. He died in 2011, also at age 110.

The oldest veteran of each country that was part of The War to End All Wars was at least 99 years old when he or she died. The oldest was 111.

The conflict itself lasted from July 28, 1914 to Nov. 11, 1918. It was just over four years, and the world has never been the same.

After WWI, the poppy flourished in Europe. Scientists have long attributed the growth of this little flower to the soil in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle, following the publication of the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae while he was serving on the front lines.

Since 1920, the red poppy has been the official memorial flower of the American Legion Family. In that year, George F. Plant Post 1 in Milwaukee distributed 50,000 poppies and collected $5,500 in donations used for charitable purposes. The annual fundraising drive of the American Legion Auxiliary began officially in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson accepted the 20 millionth poppy distributed. Finally, last year Congress passed legislation to recognize and support National Poppy Day, which falls on May 25 this year.

If you choose to honor the memory of the men and women who sacrificed so much in that war that most hoped really would be the only of its kind, you can give at any number of locations that have a collection can for that day, by purchasing a poppy to wear from American Legion members — they are usually selling them outside Walmart annually on National Poppy Day — or by visiting legion.org/poppyday/give. If you would like to give to help support veterans, the military community and their families, rest assured that 100 percent of all donations go to this purpose.

I already have my poppy ready to wear, and to each of you who served in the military at any time in any capacity, thank you from the depths of my heart. We can only remember those who served in World War I, but you are still here. We owe you our gratitude and respect now.

Again, thank you.

Lifestyles editor Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.