BRADENTON -- Every Memorial Day weekend for the last five years, Dan Graham and his dog, Buddy, have sat in front of the Publix on Manatee Avenue and 39th Street West, offering passersby a Buddy Poppy.
Many of those who take the bright red paper flower give a donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10141, 420 67th St. W., which in turn helps down-
and-out U.S. military veterans get back on their feet.
"I'm here to support the veterans," Graham said Saturday, as Buddy greeted another visitor. "It's an honor to do this for the people who served."
Although Graham, 52, was not in the military, he is a member of the Post 10141 men's auxiliary because his father served in Korea.
"He saw a lot of action over there," he said of his father. "In one battle 200 went in but only 10 came out, and my dad was one of them."
Graham, who also distributes Buddy Poppies on Veterans Day in November, said people remember him from year to year.
"I graduated from Bayshore High School and friends I went to school with come by to talk," he said.
Annette Harry was one of the contributors as she was getting off work at Publix.
"I like to help out the veterans of today and yesterday," Harry said.
That was the motivation for Katie O'Connor, who also made a donation and received a poppy.
"We have to support the veterans," O'Connor said. "I'm thankful for all the people who fought for us."
Like many others, giving to the Buddy Poppy program is second nature to Kenneth Sanchez.
The young man said he picked up the practice as a child when his parents would give him money to put into the jar.
"We have to pay (the veterans) back," Sanchez said.
The national VFW started its first poppy distribution program in 1922 and officially named it the Buddy Poppy in 1923.
Disabled veterans assemble the poppies in Veteran Administration hospitals throughout the country and money raised with donations is distributed within the county where it is collected.
"We raise between $2,500 to $3,000 a year," said Mike Cline Smith, quartermaster for the post of about 600 members. "The reason for the fund is to help veterans who may need gas to get to Bay Pines (VA Hospital in Pinellas County) or an emergency."
Post Commander John Baumgarten said the money has helped veterans with clothing, electric bills and rent.
"We work through the Manatee County Veterans Council," said Baumgarten, who served during the Vietnam War from 1967-1968.
The Buddy Poppy program is just another way to honor the military service men and women who died in combat, he said.
"To me we celebrate Memorial Day to remember what they've been through and that they have fallen but are not forgotten."
Nelson Gosnell was also in front of Publix collecting donations for another veterans' organization. Veterans' Outreach.
"We help veterans who are homeless or hungry, or is need of some kind of financial assistance," said Gosnell, a Vietnam War veteran who served from 1966-1967.