03.05.17: Big Red One

Flowers form a red number one, the shape of the First Division patch, 
in front of the First Division Monument in Washington, DC.


Technical information

Sept. 25, 2007,
3:23 p.m.

38°53’44” N,
77°2'19" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 40D

Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (22mm) 


1/200th second


The nation’s capital is filled with monuments. You can’t walk a block in Washington, DC, without seeing a marble, granite or limestone sculpture or column or bronze statue commemorating a person or event.

As a photographer, I often ignore them unless the setting intrigues me.

But the First Division Monument caught my attention. It wasn’t because the physical monument itself was anything special. It’s just another granite column with a bronze Victory statue on top.

What caught my eye was the living, seasonal part of the monument — a field of red flowers in the shape of a big red number one. It’s a fitting tribute to the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division, officially nicknamed “The Big Red One” after its shoulder patch.

The combination of the flowers, the granite column, the blue sky and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the background made an interesting composition so I grabbed a shot. This was photographed on a late September day when the flowers in the “one” were beginning to disappear, so the red field is a bit patchy.

The First Division Monument is in President’s Park, just west of the White House and south of the Eisenhower building. The original monument, dedicated in 1924, honors soldiers of the First Division who fought in World War I. A World War II addition on the west side of the monument was dedicated in 1957, followed by a Vietnam War addition on the east side in 1977 and a Desert Storm plaque in 1995.

But the red flower bed in the shape of the patch that, in my opinion, separates this monument from countless others in the capital city was added in 1965 as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify Washington, DC. Plantings include red tulips in the spring and red begonias in the summer. The flower patch is so large and so red that is it clearly visible in satellite photos of the area.

The Army First Infantry Division is the oldest continuously serving division. It was organized in 1917 during World War 1. In World War II, “The Big Red One” was the first to reach England, the first to confront the enemy in Sicily and North Africa, the first to hit the Normandy beaches on D-Day and the first to capture a major German city, according to various World War II history web sites. The First Division was also the first U.S. forces called to fight in Vietnam.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.