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230,000 vets buried at Arlington won’t get flowers on Memorial Day

Flags, flowers and other mementos adorn headstones in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, May 27, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser)
May 24, 2023

Memorial Day is traditionally a day in which Americans, as a nation, take the time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served our county and the sacrifices made for freedom. 

At Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting spot of approximately 400,000 veterans and eligible dependents, hundreds of thousands of graves will go without their flowers, according to Military Times. 

Ramiro Penaherrera, Executive Director of Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, stated the foundation needs to raise $150,000 in funds before May 24 to enable its decade-plus-long mission to honor every veteran buried in the cemetery. 

“We have brought flowers to Arlington National Cemetery every year since 2011 for Memorial Day, and it pains me to see our tribute so much smaller this year,” Penaherrera said. “Our goal is to honor every fallen service member and veteran headstone with a flower.” 

Currently, the foundation only has funding for roughly 80,000 flowers out of a 310,000 goal, leaving them 230,000 short. 

Placing flowers on Veteran graves on Memorial Day has been a national tradition since 1868. Originally called ‘decoration day.’ While different cities all stake their claim to being the first to have a day to honor fallen soldiers with headstone decorations, the official city was made official by President Lyndon Johnson.

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On May 5, 1866, the town of Waterloo, New York closed businesses, and officials flew flags at half-mast. Johnson declared this event ‘the birthplace of Memorial Day’ in 1966. 

Congress officially declared “decoration day” as a national holiday, Memorial Day, in 1971. 

Like Memorial Day, the origin of Arlington Cemetery is rooted in the Civil War. Originally Arlington Estate, established by President George Washington’s adopted grandson, to be a memorial to the first president, the property was abandoned at the start of the war. Seized by the U.S. Army, it was originally the site of several forts. The first military funeral was conducted at Arlington in 1864, with the Cemetery becoming an official national Cemetery in the same year. 

From its inception, Arlington became the Cemetery for soldiers who could not be returned to their hometowns for funerals.

Service members from every American war have a final resting place at the cemetery. Arlington houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the graves of President John F. Kennedy and President William Howard Taft. 

This history is not lost on The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation. Every year, volunteers join the effort to place flowers on the graves. According to their website, the traditional Memorial Day Flowers Foundation distribution will take place on May 28 from 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m. 

The Foundation states that they have had difficulty in achieving corporate funding for the event this year, and are relying on public support.