For several weeks in November 2015, Richland College was home to a sea of red ceramic poppies—5,171 to be exact—one poppy for every Texas soldier killed in World War I. A lone white poppy represented the single Texas nurse who also perished. This year, Richland College is honoring Veterans Day with a rededication of its poppy exhibit, “The Blood of Heroes Never Dies,” at noon Nov. 12 on the east side of Lake Thunderduck near Fannin Hall.
The original exhibit was dedicated during Richland College’s 2015 Veterans Day ceremony. After being on display on campus, some of the ceramic poppies traveled to Georgetown, Tex., where they were installed as part of the city’s annual Red Poppy Festival. The poppies were offered for sale in both Dallas and Georgetown for $10 each, with proceeds donated to Puppies Behind Bars, a nonprofit group that trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans. The organization received more than $25,000 from the poppy sales.
Since 2015, a small collection of the original poppies has been on permanent exhibit at Richland College. This year, students created 100 new poppies to replace those that have broken, and veterans will symbolically plant these fresh poppies in the display during this year’s Veterans Day event.
The permanent display, a striking patch of red along the lake that flows through campus with a recently installed plaque explaining its significance, has elicited both curiosity and pride when students, campus visitors and community members discover the meaning behind it. It is pride and the belief in the importance of this display that have inspired the volunteers who helped create the new poppies and who will be giving their time at the rededication event.
“In 2015, ‘The Blood of Heroes Never Dies’ challenged the Richland community to create a memorial honoring Texas soldiers killed in World War I,” said ceramics faculty member Jen Rose. “This educated the participants about the historical importance of the war and allowed people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and ages to share an experience together. In the process of uniting to honor veterans, we discovered our humanity and remembered their sacrifice.”
“I wanted to volunteer in the ‘Blood of Heroes Never Dies’ event because I wanted to help everyone understand the things we take for granted each day,” said Jesus Porras, Richland College graduate and administrative clerk for Richland College Veterans Services. “We wouldn’t be here if it was not for the brave women and men that take an oath to serve the country in protecting us from threats to our union. These poppies that we plant here are a sign of remembrance and hope.”
“The Blood of Heroes Never Dies” was a collaboration between Rose and history professor Clive Siegle. The original exhibit was the only one of its kind in the U.S. and was modeled after the iconic “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” poppies exhibit at the Tower of London in 2014, during which 888,246 ceramic red poppies were on display in the tower’s moat to commemorate the British and colonial servicemen killed in World War I.
“The genesis of the symbolic connection of the poppy with commemorating veterans arose from a 1915 World War I poem, ‘In Flanders Fields,’ which emphasized poppies in its theme, and has become one of the most well-known war poems to emerge from any modern conflict,” said Siegle. “The 2015 ‘Blood of Heroes’ project was meant not only to honor veterans of all wars, but to coincide with a centenary anniversary year of both World War I, and the year the Flanders Fields poem with its iconic poppy references was written. This year has particular significance for revisiting and reaffirming the ongoing vision of the ‘Blood of Heroes’ project because this Veterans Day marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of that war, which cost this nation more than 323,000 casualties, and this state 5,171 of its heroes.”
Remembrances or memorial poppies have been used since 1921 to commemorate soldiers who have died in wars. “In Flanders Fields” was penned by Lt. Col. John McCrae. Regretfully, McCrae did not survive the war and perished in January 1918. However, his poem lived on and inspired YMCA volunteer and teacher Moina Belle Michael always to remember those who died in the war and to write her pledge in the form of a poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith.” Rose and Siegle chose the passage from the ninth line of Michael’s poem, “The blood of heroes never dies,” as the theme for this memorial art installation project.
In addition to the rededication of “The Blood of Heroes Never Dies,” Richland College will be honoring Veterans Day with several other events. These include: a Richland Wind Symphony Tribute Concert, 11 a.m. Nov. 9 in El Paso Hall on the cafeteria stage; “Thank-A-Vet” card party, during which participants create thank you cards for veterans, 2 p.m. Nov. 12 in El Paso Hall student lounge area; and a benefits chat hosted by Richland College Veterans Services, 2 p.m. Nov. 14 in El Paso Hall, room E081. All events are free and open to the public.
Richland College is located at 12800 Abrams Rd. For more information about Richland College Veterans Services, visit www.richlandcollege.edu/services/veterans.
Richland College president Kathryn K. Eggleston, Ph.D. (left) creates a ceramic poppy with ceramics professor Jen Rose (right). Richland College students, faculty and staff have been creating 5,171 ceramic poppies that will be displayed lakeside on campus and dedicated on Veterans Day. Each poppy represents a Texas soldier killed in World War I. Poppies will go on sale after Veterans Day, with proceeds benefiting Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans. Photo by Keenan Cobb.