LAGRANGE – The American Legion Auxiliary has named high school senior Joshua Clayton the winner of the ALA National Poppy Poster Contest and the ALA essay contest.
The ALA National Poppy Poster Contest gives kids in local communities the chance to show their support for U.S. military veterans, both those who have died and those still living. Children in grades 2-12 show off their artistic abilities and their creativity through posters showcasing the flower of the ALA: a bright red poppy.
Clayton’s poster features a woman in a white dress standing over a grave marker. She holds her face in her hands and weeps for the loss of her loved one. A small vase of red poppies sits on the side of the grave. Other poppies swirl around the right side of the poster and the phrase “Understand Freedom Has a Price” is written on the left. The marble pattern on the grave marker is made of hundreds of tiny dots, an art form called pointillism.
Clayton’s mother Natalie’s grandfather served in World War II, but the Claytons don’t have much personal connection to the military outside of that.
“He’s just always been really patriotic,” Natalie Clayton said about her son. “It’s just another way for him to provide a community service.”
Joshua Clayton has participated in the National Poppy Poster Competition since he was in sixth grade. His posters have won at the district level almost every year since. Now that Clayton has graduated high school and is attending Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, he no longer qualified to participate in the contest.
The ALA has also awarded Clayton with a scholarship for his winning essay in which he sat down with retired Sgt. John Rinehart. Rinehart laid out in detail the story of his service in the Air Force, including the draft that pulled him into the military at 18 years old. Clayton notes that he “learned more than [he] thought possible” from his interview with Rinehart.
Clayton submitted his work for both competitions through the local John A. McGill unit of the ALA. Those looking for more information on how to join the poster contest can refer to their own local unit.
In 1919, Congress chartered The American Legion, a national nonprofit focused on providing assistance to veterans returning home from World War I, helping them reintegrate into their hometowns and still maintain the webs of support they had found in their time with the military. Soon after, a group of their wives, sisters and daughters formed the American Legion Auxiliary, working hand-in-hand with The American Legion to provide relief to veterans and their families.
Since then, the ALA has grown to involve more than 8,000 local communities and organizes education programs for local schools, send-off and welcome home events for military units and efforts to get health services to homeless veterans. The ALA has given more than $1 million in scholarships to kids like Joshua. The poppy became an official symbol of the organization on Sept. 27, 1920.
After World War I, poppies flourished all across France and Belgium. Scientists believe the lime from the rubble left after the war’s destruction provided the nutrients necessary for these poppies to grow. In John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” McCrae details the poppies blooming and larks flying high in the sky even as war rages on the ground during the battle of Belgium’s Ypres Salient. McCrae wrote this poem shortly after losing a close friend in the war. In the last few lines, McCrae urges the reader to continue to carry the torch of freedom and to remember that the fallen do not sleep even as the poppies continue to grow over them.
Every year on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and National Poppy Day (the Friday before Memorial Day), veterans involved with the ALA hand make small crepe paper poppies as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation. Volunteers hand out these small flowers to passersby, asking for donations in return. The funds raised from the handmade poppies go to programs providing food and other essentials to military families.