With Memorial Day just around the corner, we here at YABC thought it would be great to speak with an author who has written about military service. Barbara Elizabeth Walsh wrote THE POPPY LADY, which details the story of Moina Belle Michael, a woman who devoted her life to helping American soldiers during World War I. Read below to find out what inspired Walsh to write Moina's story, and how readers inspired by Moina can support soldiers today.
What inspired you to write Moina's story about her efforts to help soldiers?
THE POPPY LADY is the result of a promise I made to my Dad when I first began writing for children. He worried that people would forget about Moina and all she had done for soldiers in both World Wars. My Dad will turn ninety-nine-years-old in July, and he still remembers Moina’s kindness.
Moina felt a deep need inside of herself to help soldiers. Why do you think Moina chose to be so involved in the war effort at home?
When the United States entered World War I, Moina was a schoolteacher in Georgia. Many of her students were of war-service age, and before they left to fight overseas they came to say good-bye. Moina gave each one a small remembrance to take with them. But she felt that wasn’t nearly enough. So, she put all her energy towards serving the young soldiers before they left for war.
Do you have any personal experiences with loved ones going to war, or have you gone to war yourself? If so, how did those experiences affect you?
My fiancé was drafted into service during the Vietnam War. I was in my early twenties, and it was a tough adjustment period. One minute my calendar was filled with wedding plans and preparations, the next minute it was wiped clean. I was sad. I was also frightened that he wouldn’t return. I kept my feelings inside because I was teaching, and I didn’t want my students to worry. But they sensed how I felt and asked about my fiancé every day. They also wrote letters to him and made funny cards. They cared, and that lifted my spirits.
How do you feel loved ones of servicemen and women are affected when their relatives go to war?
I definitely believe they face battles of their own. Just imagine saying good-bye to someone you love when you know they’re heading into danger. You worry, and that makes it difficult to sleep, eat, or concentrate. If the worrying gets out of control you suffer physically with headaches and stomach pains. Facing the unknown each day makes you short-tempered and irritable. And even when you try really hard to be brave and keep the anxious feelings bottled up deep inside of you, sometimes they bubble up and spill out into the air.
During World War I, the roles of men and women in war were very different than what they are today. How do you think Moina's story would change if she were affected by war in the 2000s?
The roles are definitely different now, but Moina would promote the same message: Honor and support all who fight for freedom. But instead of writing thousands of letters, social media would give Moina a new way to bring her message to the masses. Armed with a cell phone and computer, she would post on Facebook and Twitter, and have her own blog. And just think of all the soldiers Moina could interact with using FaceTime and Skype!
Is there anyone involved in supporting veterans today that you feel is a modern Moina?
Yes, Benita Koeman, founder of the website Operation We Are Here (OWAH), is very much like Moina in her determination to help. As a military spouse and mother to three young children, Benita recognizes the need for military family support. On her website she offers a go-to list of resources and information for the military community. She also offers ideas and suggestions to anyone who wants to support the community but doesn’t know what to do or where to begin.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about veterans in America today?
That once they return home from the warzone they’re in safe territory, and their troubles are over. But that’s not true. Many need help putting their lives back together. Unemployment, mental and physical combat wounds, and homelessness are only a few of the battles they face.
How can readers inspired by Moina's story help soldiers and veterans?
By remembering their sacrifice every day, not just on holidays. Send cards of encouragement and thank you letters, or brighten their day with a care package. Donate video games, books, and board games. If you know military children, you can be there for them when they need someone to talk to, and remind them they’re heroes too. Acknowledge members of the military community, and thank them for their service. Or simply wear a poppy, and share its message.