The United States holds a holiday every year on the last Monday in May to remember members of the US military who have given their lives in service.

Many of them are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.

And today we tell the story of a group of people who has made sure every servicemember buried there is properly remembered.

They’re known as the Arlington Ladies.

The two people at the start of this story are Gladys and Hoyt Vandenburg.

In the 1940s, she was an active member of what was called the Officers’ Wives Club.

He, as you might guess, was a military officer: Air Force Chief of Staff, to be exact.

And, by virtue of his job, the Vandenburgs attended many of the funerals at Arlington.

They noticed that in some cases, they were the only people in attendance at these funerals, other than the chaplain and the honor guard.

Gladys Vandenburg felt that these servicemembers deserved to be honored and remembered as they were laid to rest.

And, she thought, if nobody else was going to do it, the Officers’ Wives Club would.

They agreed that any time there was an Air Force funeral, one of them would be there.

Over time there were groups of Arlington Ladies that organized the same services for the Army, Navy and Coast Guard, while the Marines send their own representatives to Marine funerals.

And they take their duties seriously.

Typically they all have some direct connection to a military branch.

Some of the Arlington Ladies have served in the military themselves.

Others are married to servicemembers, some are widows of military personnel.

With each funeral, they research the servicemember’s life and career.

They have a room in the cemetery’s offices where they handwrite cards about those lives.

They give these cards to families and friends at funerals, to show their gratitude and appreciation, and to support those who are grieving.

If no one else is on hand, the honor guard will present the Arlington Ladies with the flag as part of the service.

There are sometimes dozens of funerals at Arlington in a single day, so one trip to the cemetery can mean multiple services.

That means the hundreds of Arlington Ladies (and at least two Arlington Men) have attended tens of thousands of funerals over the years.

The goal is simple, according to Margaret Mensch, leader of the Army branch of the Arlington ladies.

She said, “It doesn’t matter whether we are burying a four-star general or a private. They all deserve to have someone say thank you at their grave.”

Arlington Ladies make funerals a time of comfort, honor and remembrance (Military Families Magazine)

Arlington National Cemetery: Where Every Day We Remember (Library of Congress)

Photo by Torrey Wiley via Flickr/Creative Commons