FORTVILLE — In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars conducted its first Buddy Poppy distribution. Ninety-two years later, Kaya Billman is doing her part to serve the nation’s veterans
Whether it’s by supporting the Buddy Poppy program, reciting poems on Memorial Day or distributing blankets to veterans in wheelchairs, helping those who have served her country is something that comes naturally to the 11-year-old.
In March, the Indiana VFW conducted its spring conference, honoring Kaya during a banquet by selecting her as runner-up for the Buddy Poppy Child of the Year for the state of Indiana VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
She first was selected as the representative for the 10th District, which includes Fortville, Connersville, Richmond, New Castle, Liberty, Greenfield, Shelbyville, Greensburg, Union City and Knightstown, all communities with VFW Posts. The award is a thank you for those who participate by “honoring the dead by helping the living.”
The district winners went through an interview process
during the conference weekend, and a winner was selected from the 11 districts.
Kaya is likely a familiar face to local veterans, since her father, Eric Billman, is a member of VFW Post 6904 in Fortville.
Every year, Kaya reads the poem “In Flanders Fields” at the Memorial Day ceremony arranged by Fortville’s American Legion and VFW Posts.
“It is mostly based on the poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ which is about a great battle and a few days later, suddenly poppies are growing everywhere, and there’s beauty in it,” Kaya said. “Basically, the poppy represents the blood shed by our veterans.”
The Buddy Poppy flowers are assembled by Veterans Administration Hospitals across the country. The minimal cost of Buddy Poppies to VFW units provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of veterans.
“It sometimes helps them in therapy and helps give them a purpose,” Kaya said.
Participants are required to create a resume and list the ways they have helped local veterans and the VFW posts through the years.
Kaya has placed flags beside graves but is probably best known for her work on veterans’ holidays. The poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, is read on Memorial Day as veterans pay tribute to those who survived and those that die in conflict.
Kaya, who lives with her family in Fortville, attends school at St. Michael Catholic Church in Greenfield, but stays active with support for local veterans.
“Mostly those were things I have heard about it, and I wanted to do it, because I wanted to help out our nation’s veterans,” Kaya said.
The Buddy Poppy program is set to return larger than ever based on a resurgence and determination to re-ignite the program at the state level.
“They had not done the Buddy Poppy Child (program) and they wanted to resurrect that this year,” Billman said.
Indiana Ladies Auxiliary President Jean Haggard sought to bring the program back, and Kaya submitted her resume and won for VFW Fortville Post 6904. Kaya’s resume made its way to the District Ladies Auxiliary and was chosen. All district winners were interviewed by a national officer and two other committee members. There are 11 districts in the state.
“It wasn’t intimidating at all,” Kaya said.
Now, as runner-up, Kaya has duties she may have to fulfill if needed.
“Really, I help the real Buddy Poppy Child and whenever she is sick, I can show up. I’ll still do a lot of things for District 10 because I represent them,” Kaya said.
Her parents are especially proud of the dedication Kaya has shown to the nation’s veterans, and her hard work in earning the VFW honor.
“This was all on her own, really,” Billman said. “She expressed some interest, so we found out some more information, found out what we needed to do. We are very proud of her.”