Okanogan man makes tradition of selling flowers

Alex Wheeler also has family near Oklahoma tornado

— Every year, a local veteran does his part to help raise money for the families of disabled veterans.

Alex Wheeler, who was in the Army during World War II and the Korean War, will spend five days selling poppies at Walmart, 902 Engh Road in Omak.

Wheeler began his annual endeavor Saturday, May 25, one day after celebrating his 89th birthday.

“Memorial Day, I’ll be kind of busy,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Wheeler had to endure the anxiety of worrying about family members in Oklahoma.

His daughter, three granddaughters and seven great-granddaughters all live in Oklahoma. On Sunday, May 19, a tornado damaged homes about four miles away from where his daughter lives in Shawnee.

The following day, 40 miles to the west, a tornado killed 24 people and ravaged the town of Moore.

“I tried to call, but I couldn’t get through,” Wheeler said. “I had to wait a couple of days. When the one went through Shawnee, I knew it was close to where my daughter lives.”

After a few days waiting to hear news of his family members, Wheeler finally got the word that nobody was injured and his daughter’s home was undamaged.

Moore was originally from the tiny town of Sasakwa, Okla., but left in 1939.

He joined the Army in 1943, at the age of 18 and served until 1956.

During that time, he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Wheeler has now been an Okanogan resident for 34 years and has been selling poppies every year over Memorial Day weekend “for about six years,” he said.

In the past three years, he’s raised about $5,200 for the families of disabled veterans, including one year he raised nearly $2,000.

In 2010, he took part in Honor Flight, a program that brings World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to tour the war memorials.

“It was a long day,” he told The Chronicle in November 2010. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

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