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For the Deegans, poppy poem is a family tradition

Memorial Day services in Farmington have changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant for a few decades: Jim Deegan will read "In Flanders Field" during the ceremony at Corinthian Cemetery.

Granted, the Jims have changed. Years ago, Farmington American Legion Post member James Deegan, a veteran of World War II, started reading the famous poem during the local Memorial Day services. When he passed away in 1995, his nephew, Jim Deegan Jr., carried on the tradition.

"My Uncle Jim said it for a bazillion years," Deegan said. "He did it as far back as I remember, back when the whole ceremony took place on the west side (of Corinthian Cemetery)."

The elder Deegan served as chaplain of Post 189 for many years. But for a few years when the high school valedictorian was asked to read In Flanders Fields, James Deegan recited the poem.

Post 189 commander Leonard Weisbrich does not know just when the elder Deegan first started delivering In Flanders Field, or when they started participating in the Memorial Day services. It's just one of those things he remembers, even from his own teenage years.

"Jim Deegan could do (In Flanders Fields) anywhere, standing there, regardless of what day of the week it was," Weisbrich said.

Family tradition

Memorial Day is a family tradition, Deegan said, one he has participated in for his entire life. Being born and raised in Farmington, he remembers when a parade of veterans would line up to march through downtown Farmington.

"When I was a kid, there were a lot of (veterans) marching and they were wearing their uniforms," he said. "As kids, we ran alongside of them."

Those days rubbed off on Deegan. Though he was not eligible for membership in the Post, Deegan could join the Sons of the American Legion. Back when the SAL was first chartered, his uncle tried to get him to enroll, but Deegan was not ready. A few years later, though, in 1989, Deegan joined SAL, and has been active in the group since. In fact, following in his uncle's footsteps yet again, Deegan serves as chaplain for the SAL.

The elder Deegan recited In Flanders Field for the last time at the 1995 Memorial Day service, then died just a few months later. The next year, when it came time to find someone new to recite the poem, Weisbrich asked Deegan.

"We just asked him if he wanted to continue that tradition," Weisbrich said.

And Deegan has. Besides reading the poem at Memorial Day, Deegan also marches in the SAL lineup, and participates in the firing squad. His son, Jimmy, who is 21, is also an SAL member and also marches in the city celebration and other parades when he is available.

While so many others make plans to go to cabins or camping over Memorial Day weekend, Deegan chooses to stay close to home. Instead, on Sunday, he will be part of the firing squad at the Memorial Day ceremonies at Farmington Lutheran Cemetery (12:30 p.m.) and Castle Rock Cemetery (2 p.m.). And, of course, he will read In Flanders Fields on Monday at Corinthian Cemetery.

"Memorial Day to me ... well, I kind of grew up with it, so I'm always planning to be there for it. I guess it means something to me yet," he said. "My name is just one name and they know they can count on it."