The 40-mile-an-hour wind blew me to DCM Architecture & Engineering.
I've driven by the Cherry Hill business dozens of times over the years, always intending to stop and get the story behind the patriotic landscaping that has grown from seed to farm.
Somehow, the image of 3,882 tiny American flags flapping frantically along a suburban shortcut persuaded me it was time to see the winds of war up close.
A 19th-century office building on Kresson Road is not an obvious location for a war memorial. But if you want people to honor the men and women who gave their lives in Iraq, why not put the symbols of their sacrifice where the rest of us linger? In the daily drive-by of suburban life, death cannot be ignored.
Architect Michael Bloom, 66, got the idea after President Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003.
"He was declaring victory in Iraq, but people kept on dying," Bloom recalled. "I said, 'This is victory?' "
It may be hard to remember now, but back then, information on the death toll was scarce and criticism of the war was nearly nonexistent.
Ever the architect, Bloom decided to express his outrage visually.
He drilled holes into a half-dozen wooden handrails, painted them white, nailed them into the porch and ordered the first box of 500 miniature flags.
Surely, he wouldn't need more.
Strength in numbers
"It was a beautiful day, and extremely sad, thinking of each one as a life," he said of his experience hanging the first 300 flags representing the first 300 fallen soldiers.
Back then, the memorial was easy to miss, taking up only a small section of the porch.
"For a year," he said, "I didn't think people were getting it."
So Bloom built a sign - "In memoriam for Americans lost" - on which he Velcroed hand-cut numbers updating the death toll daily.
That drew some strong rebukes.
"In the beginning when I was out there, some people drove by yelling insults and flipping me off," he recalled. "There were people in Rotary who would not shake my hand."
Over time, as more and more coffins arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Bloom's building became engulfed in red, white and blue.
Scorn turned to support, with strangers sending postcards, leaving photos of fallen soldiers and dropping off geraniums in tribute. Two men gave $50 checks to help cover costs, which Bloom donated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
For the 1,000th flag, Bloom held a multi-faith prayer circle in the firm's front yard even though "I'm not a religious man."
At the 2,000th, he didn't know what to do.
By then, he had a system, ordering the 4-by-6-inch flags in bulk and keeping ready-made poles in the garage. Any notion of a crisp, clean design fell prey to reality: The war is chaos. So is the memorial.
"I guess I could have had one flag that's 90 feet high," the architect explained, "but I wanted something additive."
A mom in a minivan might miss one big flag. Who can ignore 3,882?
Today, the memorial is part of administrative assistant Louie Reisser's daily duties.
Each morning, she checks www.icasualties.org. Then she reaches for flags stored in a Melita coffee box under her desk.
Mondays are especially rough.
"Once, we had 12 in a weekend," she said. "When we hit 3,000, it was terrible."
At last count, 37 flag poles lined the porch and yard. An additional 184 flags are planted in pots lining the property - give or take two dozen that are stuck in the bushes or blew away in the windstorms.
On Flag Day in June, a local Girl Scout troop visited to learn about the project. Now, the girls have promised to help with the care and upkeep of the memorial.
Over the years, as the fighting has taken its toll on America, so has the weather on the flags.
To Reisser, every sun-bleached, tattered flag that succumbs to the elements is a "metaphor for this war." So she replaces them, to respect the soldiers they represent.
Up, down, it continues - that is, until they all disappear when the dying stops.
"People always ask if it's pro-war or antiwar," Bloom told me. "I say, 'It's pro-soldier, it's whatever you want it to be.' "
And whatever that is, "I really thought we'd be done by now."