South Surrey resident George Grasdal is quick to offer help to people who drop a coin or bill into his poppy drive donation box.
Grasdal, who has spent the past 13 years selling poppies for Royal Canadian Legion’s Crescent Beach Branch 240, has mastered the trick of keeping a poppy in place.
While speaking to Peace Arch News Tuesday in front of the Ocean Park BC Liquor Store – his designated spot every year – Grasdal said the trick is to thread the needle through the poppy and back into the lapel.
He demonstrated the technique on a customer, and then again on a PAN reporter.
When asked why the 74-year-old volunteers at least eight hours of the day, every day from the last Friday of October to Nov. 11, Grasdal reached for the pocket of his blazer and pulled out a reproduction of a circa 1944 photo of his parents.
George and Jean Grasdal both served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
Jean contributed to the war effort by doing clerical work near Ottawa and George was sent overseas. George, a trained tail-gunner, caught a severe flu and was reassigned to be an aircraft electrician.
“Most of the guys he trained with the first time, as tail-gunners, never came back,” Grasdal said. “That’s what the enemy fighters went for first, was the tail-gunners, and then the rest of the aircraft was pretty well wide open.”
Every year, Grasdal places a poppy on his mother’s and father’s graves.
“It’s important to remember them.”
Grasdal also had an uncle who was one of the D-Day Dodgers. The D-Day Dodgers were Allied servicemen who fought in Italy during the Second World War.
“He had three tanks shot out from under him,” Grasdal recalled of his uncle. “I remember (seeing) the shrapnel and pockmarks on his back when I was just a little guy.”
Neither his father nor his uncle talked much about their experience, he added.
However, hearing stories from veterans, and family members of veterans, has become a common part of Grasdal’s Remembrance Day volunteer work.
“I had one gentleman come up last year, and he said he picks a different location every year. He said he had relatives in both World War I and World War II. He put a $100 bill in the box, but it’s all by donation,” Grasdal said.
Grasdal says he keeps track of the familiar faces, but as the years go by, he’s receiving fewer and fewer visits from his regulars.
“There used to be a lot of ladies, veterans, that would come into the hair salon year-after-year. The last two or three years, they’re all gone. They would have been up in their late 80s and 90s.”
Prior to his 13-year stint, Grasdal said he volunteered sporadically until he retired from a 37-year career as a mail carrier.
He concluded that his time spent delivering mail trained him to be able to spend eight hours on his feet, usually from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
He prefers to do the work without a chair to rest on, he said.
“If I sat down, I wouldn’t want to get back up again.”
Remembrance Day ceremonies scheduled to take place on the Semiahmoo Peninsula include one at Crescent Beach Legion (2643 128 St) starting at 10:30 a.m.; and one at White Rock City Hall, organized by the White Rock Legion.
The White Rock parade is to start at 10:30 a.m. from Johnston Road at Roper Avenue. Service will include a flyover at 11 a.m. at the city hall cenotaph (15322 Buena Vista Ave.).