After a two-year delay, Project Poppy will unveil its public art installation of 3,837 red poppies created by local volunteers at the Haddonfield Memorial High School on Memorial Day.
Project Poppy was started by veteran and American Legion Post 38 finance officer Joe McElroy in 2019. He had gotten the idea to create the art installation after seeing “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” at the Tower of London a few years before. The idea had also come up in conversation with a friend as they reflected on ways to reinvigorate the “memorial” aspect of Haddonfield Memorial High School.
Soon after, McElroy enlisted the help of Lisa Quanci, a Haddonfield resident and volunteer for the United Services Organization.
“People know what the word memorial means, but it’s taken on a whole other meaning of the first weekend of summer,” Quanci said. “To stop and think and look up the meaning of that word – it’s remembrance and reverence in honor of not just the service, but the ultimate sacrifice.”
The poppy installation ceremony will feature military honors, chaplain’s prayers, remarks by American Legion Post 38 Commander Stephen Pecorelli and Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich, placement of flags for each of America’s wars and a reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by the Haddonfield Memorial High School Honors Society.
With the help of high-school clubs, Project Poppy successfully created the poppies needed to memorialize the 3,837 New Jersey men who died during World War 1.
“We’re very detached from the people who maintain our freedom,” McElroy said. “Memorial Day is a day to remind ourselves of those who paid the price for that freedom.”
Quanci said she learned more about World War 1 through documentaries and other media produced in honor of its centenary. She reflected on the enormity of the war’s losses on communities after the conflict ended more than 100 years ago.
“In the past, when there were so many people serving, there was a shared grief across a population,” she explained. “People knew what service meant, because even if it wasn’t your son, it was five other people in your town or on your block. But now, there’s so few serving that short of a three-minute news story, there’s nothing personal (about it.)”
She and McElroy hope that the poppy dedication will encourage people to learn more about the history of those who have served.
“You can’t teach someone to care, you can’t teach someone to have empathy,” Quanci noted, “but if you teach them the facts of the history, that might just come from the knowledge and appreciation of what they’re understanding.”
The art installation opening will take place at 11 a.m., following the 10 a.m. Memorial Day parade. It will remain up until July 4.