Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill Post 43 gears up for annual poppy sale

JoeAnn Caston watches as her husband Willie separates bunches of poppies for the American Legion's annual fundraiser.
JoeAnn Caston watches as her husband Willie separates bunches of poppies for the American Legion's annual fundraiser.

The red poppies that will pop up all over Fort Mill this weekend are more than just a hand-crafted flower.

For hospitalized war veterans whose hands craft the paper poppies, making them is therapy.

For others, like Willie Caston, the annual poppy fundraiser is a lifesaver during times of financial stress.

Come Friday and Saturday, members of the Fort Mill American Legion Auxiliary Post 43 will offer poppies for donations. It's the least they can do for the men and women who protected this country's liberties.

"We do this to help local veterans and their families," Auxiliary member Jeanie Marett said. "We've helped with power bills. We've helped with medicines, phone bills and transportation."

All proceeds from the poppy fundraiser will benefit rehabilitation funds for veterans and their families. The auxiliary's goal is simple: Help when help is needed.

Caston knows firsthand about the auxiliary's helping hand.

"They've helped me with bills, medication, transportation for my wife and groceries," said Caston, who served in the Vietnam war in the 1960s when he was in the U.S. Army.

"They adopted me."

During Caston's deployment, he took a bullet.

"I got shot and got hit by a rocket- propelled grenade," said Caston, 63, who lives in Rock Hill after calling Fort Mill home for 59 years. "It threw me about 30 yards."

For that he earned the coveted Purple Heart, he said. Decades later, he learned he had been exposed to Agent Orange -- the defoliant that was later found to cause cancer and other ailments.

"But I didn't know it for 40 years," he said last week as he separated poppies during a recent visit at the Banks Street meeting spot for the Fort Mill American Legion Auxiliary Post 43.

That exposure plus other illnesses, including diabetes and kidney disease, hampered his ability to work. That's when the auxiliary stepped in with financial assistance - thanks to their signature poppy fundraiser that dates back to the 1920s.

"Right after World War I, it was organized," Marett said.

But it's a mandate to help a fellow soldier and his family, she said.

"We want the people to know what the veterans have done for this country," she said. "They've already helped us."

By defending America's freedoms.

By defending her borders.

And the poppy fundraiser helps those soldiers.

"i've never been turned down," Caston said.

For the many tours of duty turned labors of love for U.S. soldiers, the auxiliary will offer poppies this Memorial Day weekend, Caston's wife, JoeAnn, said.

"When you see a veteran, just thanking them for serving makes their day," said JoeAnn Caston, also an auxiliary member. "I thank them for serving and for our freedom."

Members will be anchored at several Fort Mill locations, including both Food Lion locations as well as Fort Mill Pharmacy, CVS, the Peach Stand and Captain Steve's. For details, call Jeanie Marett at 328-9380.