The late May air was sticky as crowds gathered at the National Mall for the Memorial Day commemoration on Sunday.
Just a short trek from the Lincoln Memorial stood a new addition of the Mall – a transparent wall packed with poppy flowers.
At nearly 9 feet tall and 133 feet wide, the transparent wall was an unfamiliar sight to visitors. But its message and footprint, long as it was, also told an important part of the country’s history.
People could be seen quietly reflecting, some talking pictures, while walking past the poppy wall.
More than 645,000 poppies were placed in the wall, every eye-catching red flower signifying each man and woman who gave their life in military service to the United States since World War I.
In addition to the stunning red that was visible on one side of the memorial, the exhibit also included the number of casualties from each war fought by the US over the past 100 years, and various other displays of information about the poppy itself, including its significance in honoring a nation’s greatest sacrifice.
Visitors could also virtually dedicate a poppy through kiosks set up at the exhibit, with was on display from Friday until Sunday.
The history of the poppy as an honor
Poppies as a memorial for fallen soldiers date back to the early 1900s, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1915, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery, Col. John McCrae, penned the poem “In Flanders Fields,” which details a scene of poppies in a field of white crosses, according to the VA. It was in 1922 that the flower officially became the memorial flower for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said online.
Ret. Navy Vice Adm. John Bird, the senior vice president of military affairs for the United Services Automobile Association, which created the exhibit, said in a phone interview that the memorial, driven to the nation’s capital from San Antonio, Texas, was “very well received,” adding that many people thanked them for the exhibit.
Bird noted that although Memorial Day weekend is thought of by many Americans as a an opportunity to barbecue and spend time with family, it is also important to take time and reflect on individuals who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“Freedom’s not free,” Bird said.