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Poppies and patriotism: Memorial Day with American Legion Earl Graham Post 159

Posted at 7:00 AM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 08:00:51-04

BRYAN, Texas — “We honor our dead by giving each day our best. Our pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all is never-ending.”

With these words, Texas A&M Foundation president and combat veteran Tyson Voelkel reflected on his experiences of losing comrades in war, addressing a crowd of several dozen as Memorial Day keynote speaker for American Legion Post 159.

For over 100 years veterans have broken bread at Bryan's Post 159, and many a Memorial Day service has been hosted, featuring time-honored traditions.

There’s something special about the tradition of the Flanders Field red poppy, hearkening back to those soldiers’ lives lost during World War I.

The poppy is the official flower of the American Legion, and at Post 159, the women’s auxiliary members passed out fabric poppies to all in attendance on Monday.

“I actually work as the activities assistant at Crossroads nursing and rehabilitation in Hearne," said volunteer Victoria Owens as she unfolded a poppy's petals, ready for pinning.

"And later today we’re going to take some of the poppies to some of the widows of servicemen.”

These flowers adorned the shirts and hats of dozens of men and women who congregated at the Legion hall to reflect on those comrades and family members who died in war.

World War II infantryman, 96-year-old Frank Kocman of Bryan, wore his poppy on his chest.

He spends each Memorial Day:

“Reflecting all the people I knew that were here," he stated. "And there’s a lot of them. There’s got to be more than I can count.”

Kocman said that many of his fellow soldiers have either passed away due to war, or over time from natural causes and old age.

It’s why he cherishes his membership at the American Legion, where he feels a part of a community.

“Coming out here for the American Legion auxiliary coffee on Thursday morning, coming out here to ceremonies like this, that gives me a purpose for that day," he said.

"It’s what’s important, okay.”

With a 21-gun salute and rousing speech from Voelkel, Monday's ceremony at was both somber and joyful – a time to honor those lost, and treasure those still in our lives.