They stood in a line that stretched from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the western entrance to the Memorial Amphitheater, each person holding a flower. On Sunday, May 28, 2023, people from across the United States, and further, came to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) to honor those who had fallen in duty to their country. Each laid a flower at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a new tradition at ANC called Flowers of Remembrance Day.
On this special day, the Tomb Guard, who normally walks on the west side of the Tomb plaza (facing the Memorial Amphitheater), instead walked on the east side, allowing visitors the rare opportunity to walk onto the plaza and lay a flower. Some people waited as long as thirty minutes to pay tribute. A few arrived in uniform, while others wore blue baseball caps, denoting their war or service. Some people brought children or held babies. Almost all reacted emotionally when asked how they felt about laying a flower.
“It was gratitude for all the people that have served our country,” said Courtney Kutler from Burlington, Vermont. “I did it to give reverence to someone who served,” said native Washingtonian Crystal Byrd. “Not someone I knew, just someone we don’t know who gave their life for us.” Elizabeth Johnson from Accokeek, Maryland, took a long pause before she could explain her motivation. “I felt like I was doing something for their family,” she said. “They served so that we could have freedom.”
Daryl and Julie Landvetter came from Wisconsin to lay their flowers. “All the sacrifice that’s represented there makes me emotional,” said Daryl as his voice shook. Julie’s lower lip quivered while she reflected on the day. “Without people like that we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.” She also appreciated the cemetery itself. “It’s so much more emotional than a picture,” she added, “you have to see it for yourself.”
Marine Sgt. Erik Hernandez, of Las Vegas, Nevada, brought a group of his fellow Marines to the cemetery to lay flowers. “It meant a lot because of the history behind the Unknown Soldier,” he said. “It was a privilege.”
Navy Senior Chief Joshua Whitaker from Colorado brought his brother and uncle to lay flowers. “Having served with people in Iraq and knowing people who were lost over there, it’s really personal and rewarding to lay a flower,” he said, adding “being able to do that today was a heart-felt thing that got me choked up.”
Chau Trang may have come the farthest. He flew in from San Jose, California, but his journey started in 1980 when he left Vietnam. Trang served as a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army during the Vietnam War and later spent time in labor camps. Upon arriving in the United States, his wife gave birth to their daughter. A few weeks ago, that daughter invited him to Washington, D.C., and paid for his trip. “I come here,” said Trang in a thick Vietnamese accent, “so we can pay our last respect to the soldiers that helped us back home in Vietnam.”
In total, more than 9,000 people had the honor of placing a flower on the Tomb plaza. It was a special day, with special meaning to people from all different parts of the globe.