Volunteers on May 25, 2015, place roses on headstones in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

Volunteers on May 25, 2015, place roses on headstones in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Va. (U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — A nonprofit foundation in charge of annually placing flowers at headstones at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day said donations are so low this year that almost half the graves might not receive the honor for the upcoming holiday.

Officials for The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation said the group has been buying flowers and placing them on the graves at Arlington since 2011. The foundation relies on donations and partnerships to do so, and donations have trickled in slowly this year.

“It pains me to see our tribute so much smaller this year,” said Ramiro Penaherrera, executive director of the foundation. “Our goal is to honor every fallen service member and veteran headstone with a flower.”

The foundation initially secured 50,000 flowers for the Day of Remembrance at Arlington on Memorial Day weekend, leaving another 250,000 needed to provide one at each grave at the cemetery. The group has since raised $60,000, enough to buy another 100,000 flowers, but remains $90,000 and 150,000 flowers short. The funding deadline is May 26.

Each year, a variety of flowers are given by the foundation to be placed on the graves, including roses, carnations, pompom blooms, sunflowers, tulips and camellias.

“We were preparing for a worst-case scenario, and trying to figure out what we could spend, and where, and how far that would get us,” said Bernardo Beate, director of operations at the foundation. “Today, we know we can place a flower [on] at least half the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Foundation officials said they buy the flowers wholesale on the global market and shipping costs are donated by industry partners. They also said they often receive last-minute donations of flowers unsold for Mother’s Day, but there’s no way to expect how many that will be.

The foundation has never raised enough money to put flowers on all 300,000 graves at Arlington, but they have gotten close. In 2019, its best year, the group was able to put flowers on 260,000 headstones. The donations began to dry up a year later when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Arlington is the most prominent U.S. military cemetery. Veterans and eligible dependents, such as spouses, can be buried at the cemetery, which occupies about 640 acres in Arlington, Va., and lies just across the Potomac River from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and directly northwest of the Pentagon.

The cemetery was established in 1864 and is the final resting place for several major historical military figures, including former Army Gen. Creighton Abrams, Army Gen. Omar Bradley and General of the Armies John J. Pershing. Two former presidents – John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft – are buried there, along with several justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

To donate, visit the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation website.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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