AMAC Exclusive – By Eleanor Vaughn
Memorial Day was conceived at military gravesites. As early as 1866, women were decorating local graves of Civil War dead with flags and flowers. Within two years, the practice was adopted by the military itself, and the first official ceremonies were conducted at Arlington National Cemetery. As Arlington grew, developing its own rituals and traditions of honor, so did Memorial Day practices.
Now, three traditions mark the solemn tribute to fallen military heroes at Arlington. The first occurs before the holiday weekend and is known simply as “Flags In.” All across the cemetery, small American flags are put in front of every grave, one boot length from the base of the headstone, by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard. The second tradition is a remembrance ceremony held at the Memorial Amphitheater, a white marble structure in the classical style, which often features a presidential address. The third event marking the day is a ceremony held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the President lays a wreath to mark the day of remembrance.
While Arlington is the largest American military cemetery, and its rolling hills and pristine white markers have become an enduring symbol of the sacrifice of all military men and women, it is far from the only military cemetery in the country, and each will have their own special tributes today.
Almost 5,000 miles away, in Honolulu, Hawaii, is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Also called the Punchbowl, for the crater that the cemetery is nestled in, or Pūowaina, the original Hawaiian name for the area, it opened in 1949 and has become the final resting place of many soldiers from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Over 13,000 men and women are buried high above Honolulu, identified by granite markers set into the ground. Notable burials include 70 men who perished on the USS Arizona; Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning WWII correspondent; and Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color elected to Congress.
In addition to Memorial Day ceremonies that include speeches, wreaths, and salutes from an honor guard, the Punchbowl has a unique tradition of placing a lei on every grave. These are created by the community at “Sew a Lei for Memorial Day” events, where volunteers make around 38,000 leis out of fresh flowers and leaves.
This year, one man is going the extra mile to make sure each grave is decorated. Gary Hashimoto, who volunteers with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, is calling for people to donate flower leis from their graduations to the cemetery. The son of a veteran, Hashimoto recognizes the importance of honoring those who gave so much for us. Especially since this year will be the first time in two years that the full Memorial Day celebrations are held due to COVID-19, he is urging people to ensure that these traditions can be carried on.
Just as the Civil War led to the creation of Arlington and WWII led to the Punchbowl, Americans also created new cemeteries to honor WWI dead—not in the United States, but scattered across Europe, many in France and Belgium. To memorialize these resting places, the American Battle Memorial Commission (ABMC) was created in 1923. Today, it maintains 26 burial grounds and 32 memorials in 17 foreign countries, as well as four memorials in the U.S. These cemeteries are the resting place for over 124,000 Americans who gave their lives in WWI and WWII.
The ABMC also helps ensure a certain uniformity at every cemetery from Cambridge in England to Manila in the Philippines, which ensures every fallen American hero is given the proper respect that they deserve. The cemeteries are beautiful spaces, surrounded by greenery, filled with row after row of neat white markers. There are chapels at each one, as well as monuments and memorials, often inscribed with the names of the missing whose graves are unknown. Despite the many thousands of miles between them, these cemeteries are connected by common design and a common reverence for the sacrifice of those buried there.
The work of the ABMC is also not limited to just upkeeping the cemeteries, but keeping the memory of the fallen alive. One ongoing project, Operation Benjamin, is a joint effort by the ABMC, a non-profit, and the families of fallen military personnel to ensure that gravesites are marked by the right religious iconography. Unlike most national cemeteries within the United States, which mark graves with plain tablets, the foreign cemeteries of the ABMC use white crosses for Christian dead and Stars of David for Jewish dead. In the chaos of war, some Jewish military personnel were buried under crosses instead of Stars of David. Since 2018, Project Benjamin has set out to verify the religious affiliation of each service member laid to rest in foreign cemeteries.
Military cemeteries are a country’s highest demonstration of love for its sons and daughters. Once a year, we go the extra mile in these places, with flags and flowers, with speeches and salutes, but the work of cemeteries is carried on day in and day out. Crucial to all of these honors is the fact that each grave is the final resting place of an individual: not a number, but a name. Who they were matters just as much as what they did. A father who fought for his children’s freedom. A young man who laid down his life for his friends. A wife who endured fear, uncertainty, and loneliness to defend her family’s future. Each one has their own personal marker, and each one receives their own personal flag, because each one made their own personal sacrifice.
Eleanor Vaughn is a writer living in Virginia.
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These unfortunate souls ( if you will ) that are temporarily occupying the the offices of the executive branch have no ability to understand or fathom what the GOOD PEOPLE left behind and standing in the winds of change are proud of, OR why we ARE proud . They don’t even know how to spell the word. These ( unfortunate souls if you will ) skulk in the dark shadows of the political BEAST that has it’s foot on their necks. I pray that this mid term election point reveals the character of OUR COUNTRY and uproots the cancer that has taken us to the brink of no return. I am counting the days until we see the strength of this country and people once again stand with resolve to push back against the Barbarians at the gate. The temporary occupants of the executive branch are thumbing their noses at us each day with distain, as they do nothing to protect our posterity both past, present or future. I have more respect for the person’s standing guard at Penn Station than I do for the so called leaders now in office at 1600 Penn. Avenue.
people honor heroes, not cemeteries. it’s not a collective or a place that honors heroes; it’s each of US, America; it’s patriots, one-by-one! so, ie., “How are WE EACH GOING TO HONOR HEROES?” stop thinking “collectively”! that’s how “THEY” want us to think. today, start thinking for yourself! you’re not idiots who need permission to say what YOU think. turn off the tv talking heads and THINK AND SPEAK FOR YOURSELF.
God Bless them ALL!
Hope and Pray that every generation respects what so many did for Us , Freedom and Our Country.
America First and Always.
Thank you for a wonderful article.
Today, at our Memorial Day ceremony, one Navy speaker paid homage to the 13 US military personnel that were killed in Afghanistan: Name, Rank, Service, Position, Home State and Age. Most were too young and one had only been in country for less than a week.
Without these Brave Souls who laid it ALL ON THE LINE there would not be a UNITED STATES of AMERICA.
For I am more than greatful because they gave me a chance to grow up in the GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
I THANK ALL THE VETERANS WHO STEPPED UP TO PROTECT AND DEFEND OUR FREEDOMS AND CONSTITUTION.
GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU.
Amen David, Amen!
Several years ago I was afforded the honor of visiting both the Arizona Memorial and the Punchbowl.
If those solemn experiences do not bring a tear to one’s eye, one might check one’s soul.
Thank you for honoring and remembering our heroes! from a Gold Star sister.
Thank you for your brother’s(?) service, and for the sacrifice of your family that misses him.
Biden and all other Marxist/ Democrats should not be allowed near any cemetery containing honored veterans. Since they hate America, the constitution, & our military, they have no business being near any place of honor. They would disgrace it by using the event to spew out their stupid agenda.
I totally agree . U.S. military has fought , died & sacrificed themselves , fighting socialism , communism & islam terrorists . So we now have career organized crime criminals , socialists , communists & terrorist tied muslims as POTUS , V. POTUS & 7/8 of “Congress” – ALL TREASONOUS TRAITORS & NOBODY & No Law Enforcement are bothering to clean out these blatantly obvious scum ! And look how bad this country has become in one year ! Having several past family in the military & one active duty now for 15 years , it sickens me that his “Commander in Chief ” — IS the enemy !
It is sad that our fallen have to be used by politicans to rebuild their tarnished reputations and first acts of cowardess. Like the president and the Goveror of Nevada, and I am sure their are others, who somehow evaded the draft or any military service. They used every excuse, school deferred or medical excuses to not serve, yet lived a healthy and safe life in politics. These politicans act and speak of honor and heroism as if they were a brother in arms. It is an insult to those who did serve and more so for those who served and gave their ultimate sacrifice. People who serve make that decision to stand for their rights and the individual freedom that America brough to the world. In some cases they stand and they are doing so to earn the right to be an American citizen, and to do so with brothers and now sisters in arms, to stand the line. Shame, shame, shame on dishonest politicans who wouldn’t serve because they were too important to stand the line.
Best cemetary to visit : Omaha Beach, Normandy
Told its a piece of the US in France
See Saving Pvt Ryan opening & closing sequence.
On my bucket list. Till then i go out to local older cemeteries and have found revolutionary, 1812, mexican, civil, spanish, as well as ww1 and 2 gravesites to ponder. As a side note, ive often noted how young ww1 and 2 vets died, ie in their 40s and 50s, after surviving their ordeals. Ptsd?
Was there in June 1998, very solemn occasion, paying homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for FREEDOM.
I have always been proud of my country and the men and women who faught for the red and blue but today, I think that to have President Biden or any of his cabinet participate in the ceremonies to honor our war dead is making a mockery of what they bled and died for. It is a desecration of our flag because Biden does not appreciate their sacrifices.
As we enjoy our back yard barbecue’s and summer shopping sales, let us not forget that because of these brave men and women we can do so today. Don’t let there sacrifice go down in vain, let freedom rein!
Words are easy…but ACTION is necessary. Today I donated to the American Veterans Center..after watching the Memorial Day celebration which Gary Sinise again co-hosted and will again be the Honorary Grand Marshall for the National Memorial Parade today in Washington DC. I also donated to the Troopathon featured on Newmax (Move America Forward Campaign: Memorial Day Drive) to send packages to all our troops all over the world…and every fall I donate to “Wreaths Across America” to help decorate with wreaths our veterans graves in our National Cemeteries..in memory of my husband a Viet Nam Vet and my father-in-law a WW11 veteran buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery…BARGAIN…with a $75 donation for 5 Wreaths! (All these can be located on the internet.)
In some ways I take offense to the title of this article. EVERY American, that fought honorably in the armed forces in the defense of this country are the greatest heroes. Just how do you determine who Americas Greatest Heros are?
All who fought and gave their lives are America’s Greatest Heroes!
I didn’t read it that way, that only those in military cemeteries are our “greatest”. We have heroes in our local graveyards all across the nation that were honored this morning, they are ALL indeed, America’s greatest!
Words are easy…but ACTION is necessary. Today I donated to the American Veterans Center..after watching the Memorial Day celebration which Gary Sinise again co-hosted and will again be the Honorary Grand Marshall for the National Memorial Parade today in Washington DC. I also donated to the Troopathon featured on Newmax (Move America Forward Campaign: Memorial Day Drive) to send packages to all our troops all over the world…and every fall I donate to “Wreaths Across America” to help decorate with wreaths our veterans graves in our National Cemeteries..in memory of my husband a Viet Nam Vet and my father-in-law a WW11 veteran buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery…BARGAIN…with a $75 donation for 5 Wreaths! (All these can be found on the internet).
I’ve often thanked ex-miltary professionals for their service, and often those same individuals dismiss any special recognition because they hadn’t actually seen action in a “shooting war”. Reminds me of my Dad who survived WWII, but thought himself to be no hero because he survived the battle of Okinawa and one quarter of his fellow shipmates did not. All those who have served are worthy of our respect and grateful admiration each and every day.