Those Crepe Paper Poppies

“Mom, why would someone be selling paper poppies in a grocery store parking lot?” Son Dan was home from college that spring.

Oh dear, I wondered, what else I’d neglected to teach him?

Red crepe paper poppies were part of my growing up years. Every Decoration Day, as my grandmother called May 30th, she made sure we each had a poppy to wear when we took homegrown flowers to the cemetery.

A red paper poppy to remember.

Grandma Leora Wilson sold those poppies in Guthrie Center, Iowa, for decades. This tiny white-haired lady lost three sons during World War II, when they were about the same age as my son in college.

When Dan was a boy, he came along with Grandma when we took flowers to the Perry cemetery to honor those lost sons. I probably didn’t say much about the significance of our yearly ritual. I guess I hardly knew the story myself.

Grandma and my mother and her sister rarely talked about the sorrow this rite represented. I had head knowledge of the loss of Mom’s younger brothers, but few details. At home, their pictures–in their pilots’ uniforms–were silent watchers.

When the mention of something brings tears to your mother’s voice, what child of any age would ask more questions?

Taking flowers to the cemetery was a May tradition for the women of my Motherline. It also included having lunch in Perry with Grandma, Aunt Darlene, Mom, and my sis Gloria. And shopping. As a child, I looked forward to it.

Leora Wilson at Violet Hill Cemetery, Perry, Iowa.

I didn’t realize until after Grandma’s death and got to read all the family letters–and terrible telegrams–that Dale and Danny Wilson aren’t buried at Perry. Only Junior is buried there. His P-40 exploded in training the day the second atomic bomb was dropped. Dale and Danny were both still missing at the end of the war. Danny’s grave was located later, and he is now buried in France. Dale and his crew in New Guinea have never been found.


Many American families don’t even visit a cemetery for Memorial Day, and have no idea that it is for remembering the sacrifices of sons and brothers and fathers who were lost in the struggle to liberate other countries. Countries devastated by war.

Europeans do a better job than we do of remembering and appreciating all these American losses. After all, they live where those wars were fought to rescue their homeland from the Nazis. Thousands of those young Americans lie in cemeteries overseas.

Memorial Day ceremonies will be held today in 26 American military cemeteries around the globe, with nearly 125,00 graves–including that of Danny Wilson. And panels with names of over 94,000 still missing in action, lost, or buried at sea–including Dale Wilson, who was Aunt Darlene’s twin.

The Wilson sisters, both nearly 80, were the first in the family to see “where brother Danny is buried.” My husband and I went with them to the Lorraine American Cemetery in eastern France–Plot D, Row 5, Grave 7–where we held our own memorial service for this Iowa farm boy.

st avold

His grave is just one of over 10,000 buried in that cemetery alone. It would be easier to pass this remembering on to our younger generations if our fallen soldiers were buried here at home. The enormity of our loss–as a nation and as individual families–is easier to grasp when your own eyes take in the scene of row upon row of white marble markers. When your sixth sense alerts you somehow to the sacredness of the place.

There are over 10,000 young Americans buried in Lorraine Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

We need to make sure this part of history and those young men are never forgotten. At least buy a poppy–for remembrance.

 Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is the story of the Wilson family during the war.



  1. Such a loss for your family. The crepe paper poppy was a part of my growing up years as well. I still make a point of buying a poppy ever year to remember my dad, whose experiences in WWII led him to become an Episcopal priest to try and make the world a better place.

    • I’m working on a book about the family–just an ordinary farm family who’d come through the Great Depression. The second brother, Donald, was on the USS Yorktown (CV-5) when it was sunk. There’s a couple of stories about him on my website, too. The two navy brothers survived into their 80s.

      • Terrific! I never tire of the stories. In fact (and I say this quite often), the more I learn about that generation, the more I am completely amazed!!

      • Amen! I only knew my dad as a farmer, and at the end of the war he was a commander of a B-29 with a date set to leave for Saipan (September 1945). I’m thankful to find you. I used to correspond with Larry Hickey about the 38th Bomb Group–before he became very ill. I came down with fibromyalgia and don’t have my book finished. The reunion group made sure his got published, but not before my Uncle Donald Wilson (the Yorktown uncle) died. Uncle Don was later assigned to the USS Hancock (CV-19), which was out of action for awhile because of a kamikaze.

  2. Wow. What a story. Being younger this all seems so forgein to me, but all I want to do now is teach these stories of those who’s fought for us to my children and use these days to acknowledge their lives and the lives of those around them who lost so much. My husband is a collector of letters and photos and autographs of the men in WWII along with many other wars. I will pass this onto him.

    • Thank you, Cicily. He might like to see the WWII posts on my website. This week I’m mapping out my grandmother’s challenging Depression Era stories. The whooping cough story (all nine children had it, the baby twins succumbed) is under Depression Era, along with others. Her earlier stories are under Turn of Century.

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