ARLINGTON, Virginia– This year’s Memorial Day in Washington, DC was marked by warm temperatures and a cloudless sky. Thousands of Americans flocked to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to the nearly 400,000 servicemen and women buried here.
Melissa Sampson, a Maine resident, drove all the way to Washington with her husband to honor friends of his who died overseas and take part in the ceremonies celebrating their contributions to the nation. “Memorial Day is a difficult thing for many families because so many were unable to say goodbye to their loved ones who died overseas,” she said.
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began in 1868 when Civil War veteran Gen. John Logan organized a veterans’ organization to lay flowers on the graves of those who died in the conflict. It was first declared a national holiday in 1971 by an act of Congress.
Visitors to the cemetery took part in many commemorative activities today, including a service at the Memorial Amphitheater, a ceremony dedicated to the women who served in the American military, and the half-hourly Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—one of the most powerful tributes to America’s war dead. President Obama commemorated Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and thanking U.S. soldiers and their families for sacrifices made from World War II through the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter also attended the event.
David Weegand lost his uncle shortly after the end of World War II in a training accident. He told Breitbart News that, to him, “Memorial Day is a time when I can honor those in my family who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.” “Today has been particularly special because I had the opportunity to visit Arlington; it is truly awe-inspiring,” he explained.
Former Marine staff sergeant Garry Green lost his sister, US Army Specialist Toccara Green, to an IED in Iraq in 2005 during her second tour of duty. She was the first female soldier from Maryland to die in Iraq, and received a Purple Heart. “If you look around, every color, every background is represented out here, because we’ve got one thing in common: we’ve lost somebody who served their country,” Sgt. Green told Breitbart News.
“Ten years ago, my sister’s grave was in the last row. To understand the magnitude of what’s going on, look at how many more graves there are… and there are still people dying for us, right now.”
A uniformed Army officer, who preferred not to be named, was leaving roses at the graves of many of the friends and colleagues he lost in Iraq and Afghanistan when Breitbart News interviewed him. When asked how difficult Memorial Day is for him, he immediately became emotional, all he could muster up to say was, “I can’t answer…”
His voice began to break as emotions seemingly took over. After he took a moment to compose himself, the officer began speaking again, telling Breitbart News, “It’s hard… it gets harder every year.”
Breitbart News’ Edwin Mora contributed to this report.