Volunteers Lay More than 250,000 Roses on Fallen Soldiers’ Graves

Last month, hundreds of florists, growers, wholesalers and other volunteers spent Memorial Day honoring fallen service members by placing flowers on their graves.

It’s a well-known Christmas tradition for volunteers to place wreaths at the grave sites at Arlington National Cemetery, but a similar tradition that honors our fallen also takes place around Memorial Day in the famous site in Virginia, as well as 20 cemeteries across the country.

The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation organized its seventh annual event where the public can place roses at grave sites and hand out flowers to families at the Welcome Center and in Section 60 (where fallen service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are buried).

“We gave out 10,000 roses that first year at Memorial Day, and it’s grown from there to 60,000 the next year and last year, about 140,000,” said Ramiro Penaherrera, one of Memorial Day Flowers’ organizers. The foundation works with the Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration and has distributed 250,000 flowers total across the country.

The roses come from Ecuador, Colombia and (new this year) Ethiopia. California provided bouquets and other focal flowers.

Penaherrera lives in Ecuador where he has a gypsophila farm, but he was born, raised and educated in D.C. He has five family members at Arlington, “so Arlington has always played special role, a huge role in our family,” he said.

And he sees how special Arlington Cemetery is for others.

Families of fallen service members are very appreciative of the solemn event, said Penaherrera, who was in Section 60 at Arlington during the inaugural event in 2011.

He recalled an emotional experience from that day. A woman came up to him to thank him for the flower and said, “My husband gave me flowers when he was born.”

Then he realized what she meant.

“I was giving her flowers for her son who was buried in Section 60,” Penaherrera said. So heartbroken from that encounter, he has since delegated the task of handing out flowers in Section 60.

Penaherrera has seen many of the volunteers return year after year. Jack Bacarra, an 11-year-old Boy Scout, has volunteered for this event for more than half of his life.

Florists from all over the United States also participated under the auspices of the foundation.

Mayesh Wholesale Florist arranged for 25 of its retail customers to receive boxes of 250 roses with a banner and handouts. Other involved wholesale florists include Carlstedt, RJ Carbone, DV Flora, Schaefer, Mt. Eden, Potomac, Koehler and Dramm, Melano, Tommy’s, Georgia State, Perri Farms, FloraFresh, Younger & Son, FlorExpo, and Quinlan-Wasserman.