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Commemorating the past by covering it with poppies

This display, covered in poppies, was created by members of the Alexandria VFW Auxiliary. It was shown at the district VFW meeting and then at the state level, where it earned 1st place in the category "Inspirational Memorials." The display will next be shown at the national convention in Reno, Nevada next week. (Contributed photo)

While the United States is usually covered with red, white and blue on the Fourth of July, the Alexandria chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) tried something different when they commemorated historical events in displays - they covered it with poppies.

"The display is covered in 1,364 poppies; all of which were applied by hand," VFW secretary, Kathy Baudrau said about the display that her son, David Hjelm, and daughter, Denise Hjelm created. The display will be entered in the VFW National Convention, which will be held for five days in Reno, Nevada beginning July 21.

In order to make it to the national level, the display had to first be taken to a VFW district meeting and then the state level, where it was judged in one of four categories.

"Our display was put into inspirational memorials," Baudrau said. "I thought we had a pretty good chance of winning, but it was still such a thrill to get first."

Each winner from the different categories in every state then competes at the national level.

"The thought that goes into some of these displays is amazing. One team who won the creativity category actually papier-mached a soldier who was in the T-Bo stance with a bible in front of him," Baudrau recalled. "But I think our dis-play turned out pretty good, too. We worked great under pressure and time restraints. In the end, it all fell together."

So far, the display has been on exhibit locally at Roers Bakery and Edgewood Vista.


"For the display, I wanted to commemorate 9/11 and the Statue of Liberty because they were having their 10th and 110th anniversary during the time I was making the display," Baurau noted.

The display, which was created by three people in 24.5 hours, shows the Statue of Liberty on an island, and on the opposite shore sits two empty Plexiglas towers with a light shining through them, symbolizing the fallen Twin Towers. Clouds float along the display with quotes from the statue embroidered inside of them.

"My daughter has some architecture background so she laid out the display from the perspective of someone first coming to America, so they would see the Statue of Liberty and behind it, the Twin Towers, if they were still standing," Baudrau said.


Along with the VFW display, the junior unit, comprised of eight members, also created a display and entered it into the junior unit category at the state convention, where they took fourth.

The display took them seven and a half hours to finish and was covered in 823 poppies.

"This year, each kid came up with a different design and then they decided which one they liked best," Baudrau said.

The final design was a pair of empty boots with a rifle and a helmet resting on the rifle. All were covered in poppies.

"This display is usually used to commemorate a fallen soldier," Baudrau explained.


In 1922, the VFW organized the first poppies distribution before Memorial Day and since then, the poppy has become the official memorial flower of the VFW of the United States. Constructed by needy and disabled veterans, the project provides some financial assistance and therapeutic benefit to veterans.

Today, the project continues to help thousands of veterans and their families.

"Each year I order about 5,000 poppies - we try to use as many as we can in all of our projects," Baurau said. "The more poppies we use, the more we help. But, instead of selling them, we ask for donations. All of the donations we receive go into a relief fund to help active soldiers and their families."

During the end of April and beginning of May, the VFW also gives poppy cards out to businesses and asks for donations. Then, on Poppy Day, the businesses can take the poppies off and wear them to commemorate the soldiers.

"Buying and wearing poppies honor the dead while helping the living," Baurau noted.