Veterans share the real meaning of Memorial Day at USAA Poppy Wall of Honor

Kaylah Jackson
May 24, 2019 - 3:35 pm
John Macias, Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran

(Photo courtesy of Kaylah Jackson)

As thousands walk along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during Memorial Day weekend, many were stopped in their tracks by the large display of poppy flowers near the Lincoln Memorial.

“This wall gives people a chance to understand … we should never forget and we need to remember the fallen,” said John Bird, senior vice president for military affairs at USAA and retired Navy vice admiral.

USAA’s Poppy Wall of Honor is a 133-foot long display of poppies, over 600,000 for every service member that’s made the ultimate sacrifice since World War I. Although many mark Memorial Day with the beginning of summer and a time to enjoy BBQ and beaches, many veterans want to ensure the public observe the solemn nature of this weekend.

USAA Poppy Wall of Honor
(Photo courtesy of Kaylah Jackson)

“I think we’ve forgotten,” said Army veteran, Sherry McDonald. “They served our country. They deserve at least a moment for someone to recognize what they did.”

While McDonald served during the Vietnam era and appreciates civilians thanking her for her service during Memorial Day, it does make her a little uncomfortable.

She adds, “Memorial Day is about those who have lost their lives."

Along with the actual flowers, the Poppy Wall of Honor includes displays highlighting the number of lives lost in major conflicts and features videos commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The placement of this interactive experience between the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorial is especially sacred for those who’ve lost friends and family in war.

USAA Poppy Wall of Honor
(Photo courtesy of Kaylah Jackson)

“I was 18 when I went to Vietnam…and it was strange how we grew up so fast but it was something we felt we had to do,” said Marine veteran, John Macias. “It was a good experience and I would do it again if necessary."

Macias came to Washington, D.C. to see a friend interred at Arlington National Cemetery and pay his respects to others he served with whose names appears on the Vietnam War Memorial. His visit to the Poppy Wall of Honor allowed him to reflect more on the legacy of service members who came after him.

“There’s a saying that during peacetime, sons bury their fathers, and during wartime, fathers bury their sons,” saying Macias. “This memorial and this place make it really humbling for me, I’m just an average guy."

“Memorial Day is about our heroes who didn’t come home … that’s the ultimate sacrifice is when you die for your country, and while veterans are prepared to do that, those that did are the ones who we're honoring on Memorial Day,” said Bird.

The Poppy Wall of Honor will be open to the public for the remainder of the Memorial Day weekend from May 24 through May 26. For those who cannot make the trip to the nation’s capital to view it themselves, USAA created an interactive version of the memorial which can be viewed, here.

Poppy Wall of Honor returning to DC for Memorial Day

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