BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. -- After watching Norbert Reif carefully roll tiny, red tissue-thin pieces of paper into artificial poppies, one might think his hands would ache. But they don't.
"It's my arms that hurt," said the 76-year-old veteran, as he showed how he assembles the seven-piece poppy.
He makes all of the paper poppies, more than 20,000 a year, that the American Legion Auxiliary in West Virginia distributes on Veterans Day and Memorial Day as a fundraiser.
Floyd Williams has it a little easier. There are only three pieces to the red plastic poppies he and others assemble by the thousands to ship to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Reif and Williams live at the West Virginia Home for Veterans in Barboursville. About 10 veterans at the Veterans Home participate in the Buddy Poppy program, which the VFW started 1923 to provide some financial assistance to disabled and needy veterans.
The VFW adopted the poppy as its memorial flower in 1921, shortly after the American Legion adopted the poppy as its official remembrance symbol.
Williams, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he spends all his free time making the poppies. It keeps his hands busy, and his time occupied. It helps him stay sober.
Williams, a Huntington native, has lived on and off at the Veterans Home for the 20 years he has struggled with alcoholism. "I have 3 1/2 years of sobriety. It's no easy feat," he said.
Reif was in the Air Force from 1958 to 1962, serving in Alaska as part of the ground crew for B-52s. For most of his working life, he was a mechanic and toolmaker on Long Island. He later moved to Elkins. "I had people there," he said. He's lived at the Veterans Home for 12 years.
Reif works solo in his room, cutting out the heart-shaped crepe paper pieces, rolling them into tight cylinders, separating the thin wires of the stem, attaching the parts and gluing the paper tag to the stem. He said he assembles 25 in an hour. He's paid 3 cents per poppy through the Buddy Poppy program.
Williams, on the other hand, is paid $16 per 1,000 poppies. It takes him about eight hours to make 1,000.