If there was ever a group of women to admire, it’s the Arlington Ladies. These volunteers attend funeral services and stand at burial sites at Arlington National Cemetery. In this way they make sure that no military service man or woman is buried alone.
Some 65 members strong, the Arlington Ladies began in 1948. It started with the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Hoyt Vandenberg, and his wife, Gladys. Together they routinely attended funeral services at the cemetery and noticed that some services only had a military chaplain present. In short order, Mrs. Vandenberg asked her friends to start attending services. In time they became known as the Officer’s Wives Club.
Their work inspired others. By 1973, General Creighton Abrams’ wife, Julia, founded the Army’s version. The Navy followed suite in 1986. In 2006 the Coast Guard chimed in. Only the Marines do not officially have a group. That’s because they already send a representative of the Marine Commandant to every funeral.
These women are often an official part of the funeral service, representing the military service’s chief of staff or equivalent. The ladies present cards of condolence to the next of kin from the military service chief and spouse on behalf of the service family.
On occasion they can do up to 10 funerals a day – Arlington Cemetery has been known to have 100 burials a day – and their service includes being present for in the ground or in a columbarium. In some cases they may not know until the day before who they will be honoring. Their goal, according to one member is “to pay homage” to those who have given their lives for this country.
We found it is interesting that each of the Arlington Ladies is personally connected to either active duty service military personnel or veterans.