WHITE CITY — If Lt. Col. John McCrae stepped into the "poppy center" in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, he would feel right at home among the boxes of red flowers.

WHITE CITY — If Lt. Col. John McCrae stepped into the "poppy center" in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, he would feel right at home among the boxes of red flowers.

After all, the Canadian Army doctor's poem "In Flanders Fields," about poppies and fallen soldiers of World War I, was the inspiration for the Buddy Poppy program, which the Veterans of Foreign Wars launched in May 1922 to raise funds for needy and disabled veterans.

Each year, SORCC produces about 2.5 million artificial poppies with their telltale red blossoms and green stems, making it the largest producer nationwide, said Don German, the volunteer supervisor at the center. "These poppies go all over the United States — we've got orders now for Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio," said German, a member of the Del Rogue VFW post in Grants Pass. "Ours is the biggest poppy center the VFW has across the nation.

"And Memorial Day is always the big day for us, that and Veterans Day," German said.

Since March 1, German, 76, a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War, has shipped out more than 1 million Buddy Poppies to VFW posts around the nation.

"Buddy Poppy — Wear it proudly," reads one side of the label on each poppy. "Proceeds to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for veterans assistance programs," adds the other side.

Nationally, the VFW raises more than $15 million each year through donations for its Buddy Poppies.

"Every penny goes to help veterans," stressed Richard Eubank of Eugene, a former Marine who is the VFW's national senior vice commander. "All the money we receive from donations goes into the relief fund for veterans. It's a good program that also allows disabled veterans to participate and earn a little money."

German has 27 veterans at the SORCC working on the Buddy Poppy project. When a veteran brings in 5,000 poppies made from the materials the VFW supplies, the veteran receives $75 for his or her work. Nine of the veterans who work on the project produce 5,000 poppies weekly, he said.

"That's $300 a month they can make," he said. "It gives them some additional income."

The work starts around the first of the year for Memorial Day, then resumes in July for Veterans Day, he said.

His chapter took in a little over $1,600 when it offered poppies to the public earlier this month, German said.

"It is all through donations," he said. "We don't ask people for money. It's whatever people can afford to donate."

A former long-haul truck driver and heavy equipment operator, German began volunteering to help veterans in 2003.

"I work for the veterans," he said. "When I first started doing this, I was looking for a way to pay back the World War II veterans. I figure they are the ones who kept us a free nation."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.