Life

Arlington Cemetery Has ‘Volunteer Mourners’ Who Make Sure Fallen Soldiers Are Never Buried Alone

These all-female volunteers provide an important service for the U.S. military.

A funeral was being held for a member of our country’s military. The Honor Guard was present fulfilling its duty. A chaplain orchestrated the ceremony. But sadly, there was no one else in attendance—no family mourning or no fellow soldiers witnessing the honor being bestowed on one of their own.

This is the scene that Hoyt Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force, observed at Arlington Cemetery in 1948. After witnessing a soldier being buried alone,  Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, set out to make sure that it never happened again.

Gladys enlisted friends and other military wives, and formed a group to attend all Air Force funerals. Other branches of the military followed suit by forming their own groups of volunteers. Collectively, the volunteers are now known as the “Arlington Ladies.” The women act as representatives of the military as well as a sort of surrogates for families who can’t afford to travel to the burial site.

The group is made up of approximately 150 women over the age of 40. Each woman has a personal connection to the military. Most are military wives, but there are some daughters who give their time as well.

Arlington Lady Doreen Huylebroeck has buried her husband and close to 500 other veterans. “The military person is a hero and he deserves it. It’s just a special way to honor him and be there,” Huylebroeck told Stars and Stripes. “It’s our way of saying thank you to him for his service.”

Though the women shy away from recognition, we want to express our gratitude for not allowing these deaths to pass unnoticed. Many families have been comforted knowing that these woman are there, watching over and honoring those who have lost their lives while serving our country.

[h/t: Mental Floss]

Photo by Beverly & Pack