Honor with Flowers: The history and meaning of the flower tribute

On Memorial Day weekend, as visitors make their way into the country’s most recognizable military cemetery, they are met with a profusion of beautiful and colorful flowers.

Visitors, often emotional, ask us where these flowers come from, and those unfamiliar with us ask how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation began. Over the next few newsletters, I’ll share with you some background about the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, what goes into making these events at Arlington National Cemetery happen, and why it is such a meaningful tribute.

In May 2011, Jeff Sheedy, Dean Rule, and I wanted to show our appreciation for the U.S. Armed Forces. One of us, and our memories are shaky, suggested handing out flowers for the upcoming Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery. In spite of it being only a few weeks before Memorial Day, we called the ANC administration, and a flower handout was approved within 36 hours.  Since then, ANC has shown to be a pleasure to work with.  Living and working in Ecuador, we reached out to over 50 rose growers, asking if they would donate flowers for visitors at ANC. The rose growers, many who studied in the USA and have strong feelings and ties with our country, generously gave 10,000 roses.

With the support of the Ecuadorian flower grower association, just a few days before Memorial Day, these 10,000 roses were flown to Miami, trucked to DVFlora Wholesale Florist, and then transported to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington D.C.  On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Dean’s family and embassy staff, including Ambassador Efrain Baus, helped cut the stems and place all the roses in buckets.

At dawn on Memorial Day May 30, 2011, six of us loaded up a rented UHaul and drove from the Ecuadorian Embassy to Arlington National Cemetery. We set up a table inside the Welcome Center and surrounded it with the 10,000 roses. In two hours, all the roses were gone.

That’s how it all started and every year since then has seen a flower tribute at Arlington National Cemetery. For this year, we have several events planned to honor those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

On Sunday, May 26, please join us for Flowers of Remembrance Day, where all cemetery visitors will have the opportunity to walk the Memorial Plaza and place a flower before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Sunday May 26th.