See a red poppy? Pull out some cash


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Holli Wilbur proudly shows off the poster of her dad, Andrew David Nealy, who was picked to promote poppy sales to help fellow injured Veterans of Foreign Wars.

It’s a story that doesn’t grow old through the telling.

When Holli Wilbur was a child learning to walk, she and her siblings most naturally copied their dad’s gait. The toddlers took a short step forward and then swung the other leg around as if it was heavy and made of wood.

But in their dad’s case, it was. 

U.S. Marine and World War II veteran Andrew David Nealy lost a leg in the Korean War and was later selected in 1955 to be featured on the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Ladies Auxiliary Poppy Seed Poster. The popular poster promoted support of injured veterans. The ever-present poppy sales surrounding Veterans Day Nov. 11 continue today.

“We adored our dad. We grew up never realizing that when someone was ‘disabled’ that it meant there were things they couldn’t do. My dad did everything. If we went bowling, he hopped down the lane and threw a strike. He had a wicked dry wit sense of humor, always a friend to everybody.”

Nealy was a favorite in his unit, keeping his chin up when they suffered from water overflowing their trenches, intense heat, mosquitoes, K-rations — a term for a sparse meal eaten on tour — and eating things too horrible to mention when they ran out.

He was awarded the Purple Heart due to the severity of his injuries and his leadership skills in helping his fellow injured brothers for whom he was responsible as their unit leader.

“We never walked by anyone selling the poppies, we always gave money. Each time we would, he would share more about the dangers and suffering faced by our veterans on the front line.”

One day, it looked like Wilbur would share her father’s fate. As a young girl, she was severely injured in a car wreck and almost died. The surgeons prepared to amputate her leg.

“It looked like a bomb had gone off in my leg,” Wilbur said. For her father, it was in fact the case. His leg was blown off by a land mine hours before he was to return home. Despite the fact that he had made the best of his fate, he wasn’t about to let it be hers.

Her parents got a second opinion and wound up avoiding amputation, and when she was able, encouraged Wilbur to do the hard work, whatever it took, to recover intact.

“Having Dad as my mentor, seeing what he accomplished and overcame, inspired me to do the same.”

Today, her dad’s influence and her life experience helps Wilbur give love and inspiration to others regardless of their disability as the Sales and Leasing manager at Grand Villa of Melbourne, an assisted living and memory care community.

“I take the time to look at them and listen to them, even if it is just a minute. They get that ‘aha” moment, ‘Someone still notices me, someone cares about me.’ I say, ‘Do you need your hug today?’ They give me the best hugs in the world and I think of my dad all over again.”

For more information on the VFW poppy program, go to vfw.org/Community/Buddy-Poppy