The National Mall in Washington, DC has something new for America’s Memorial Day holiday this year.
For three days, visitors can see a clear wall filled with red poppies. The flowers are to honor the men and women who died while serving the United States in conflicts since World War I.
Together, more than 645,000 red poppies are on the grounds of the National Mall this weekend.
John Bird is a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy and the vice president of military affairs at the financial business USAA. He explains the aim of the Poppy Memorial show.
“The purpose of this memorial is to educate Americans and everyone who have had service members die in defense of their country or the cause of freedom.”
Bird told VOA that the poppy is an important symbol in many countries. It is often connected to the memory of someone who has fallen – or died – in military service.
The use of the poppy as a symbol dates back to a poem called “In Flanders Fields,” which was published in 1915. The verse was written by John McCrae of Canada. He served as a soldier in Europe during World War I.
McCrae wrote about the red flowers he saw growing on a field where many soldiers had died.
The poem was very popular at the time. But it took two women in the early 20th century to make the poppy a widely-recognized symbol.
In the United States, a University of Georgia professor decided she would wear a red silk flower to honor the sacrifice of soldiers. Moina Michael then persuaded a military veterans group to use the poppy as an emblem of remembrance.
In France, a woman named Anne Guérin urged French citizens to make and sell cloth poppies to raise money to repair the country after World War I. Then she worked to make red poppies an international symbol to honor veterans.
Today, the flowers are worn in France, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on November 11.
In the United States, the flowers are more commonly worn on the last Monday in May, known as Memorial Day.
While Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday to remember the war dead, it has taken on other meanings, too.
It is considered the unofficial beginning of summer. Because most schools and many businesses are closed, Americans often spend the holiday outdoors, by preparing barbecue cookouts at home or going swimming.
And stores often advertise many Memorial Day sales.
But Admiral John Bird says the poppy memorial on the National Mall helps people remember the true meaning of the holiday. The day is especially important for anyone who knows a soldier who died, he adds. After all, he notes, when people enter military service “ultimately what they’re saying is, ‘I’m willing to put my life on the line ... to defend our country.’”
“So people who have served in uniform certainly get that, and Memorial Day is a way to remember those who had to make that ultimate sacrifice.”
The poppy memorial is on Washington’s National Mall from May 25 to 27. Visitors can also dedicate a virtual poppy online at poppyinmemory.com.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story from Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in this Story
symbol - n. an object that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality
verse - n. writing in which words are arranged in a rhythmic pattern : poetry
veteran - n. someone who fought in a war as a soldier, sailor, etc.
emblem - n. an object or picture used to suggest a thing that cannot be shown
barbecue - n. an outdoor meal or party at which food is cooked on a barbecue
ultimately - adv. at the most basic level : in the central or most important way
certainly - adv. without doubt
ultimate - adj. greatest or most extreme
dedicate - v. to officially make (something) a place for honoring or remembering a person, event, etc.