WASHINGTON (Circa) - If you walk down the National Mall this memorial day weekend, you'll be able to visit D.C.'s newest war memorial.
The Poppy Memorial, directly across from the Vietnam Memorial, was erected to honor service members killed since World War I. The temporary memorial is 133 feet long and 8.5 feet tall. But the most stunning part of this memorial isn't its size - it's the color.
Within the transparents walls are thousands of synthetic red poppies - 645,000 to be exact. Each poppy was assembled by hand by a disabled veteran from either the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The poppy has a long history of being used to remember those who die in service of their country. While it may be more common to see the poppy used this way in Britian, where they often pin paper or silk poppies to their shirts or jackets, the idea actually came from Americans professor and humanitarian Moina Belle Michael and Canadian poet John McCrae. In his 1915 poem "In Flanders Fields," following the first world war, McCrae wrote of the poppies growing over soldiers' graves in Belgium and France:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
According to the BBC, the rubble made the ground "rich in lime," creating soil where not much else besides the poppies would grow.
Then, in November 1918, just before Armistice Day - now known as Veterans Day - Moina Michael read McCrae's poem while volunteering in her home state of Georgia. It moved her so much she went out and bought silk poppies - which she pinned to her own shirt and handed out at work.
She also penned a follow-up to McCrae's poem, which references the poppies of his original:
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
At the end of her poem, Michael also added "And now the Torch and Poppy Red, We wear in honor of our dead."
Here in the U.S., visitors to D.C. can see the Poppy Memorial through Sunday, May 27th. And Americans around the country can still contribute to the wall, by going online to poppyinmemory.com and dedicating a poppy to someone.