American flags billowed beside the drives of Mount Comfort Cemetery on Memorial Day. This year volunteers gathered at 6 a.m. to raise over 460 flags, all of which are coffin flags from military funerals provided by relatives in memory of the veterans they honor.
Fort Belvoir’s Installation Command Sergeant Major Andre Douglas spoke at a ceremony at the cemetery on South King’s Highway. He described visiting injured soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. “All they want to do is get their uniform back on and get back to the battlefield,” he said.
Douglas was in Iraq from May 2003 to July 2004. “[Memorial Day] makes me think about being in Iraq,” he said. “I had friends who died in Iraq.” He said it was difficult for people who had not had friends die in battle to “fully feel” the impact of Memorial Day. Those who’d had the experience must try to share it with their compatriots. “You have to tell the story,” he said. “Tell it over and over and over again. Even if the stories are different, they have the same meaning.”
“Memorial Day to me is every day,” he added. “There’s not a day that goes by that I can forget about being in the war zone. You never forget.”
Jeff Hodes is in his first year as general manager of the cemetery, so this was the first time he had organized the flag-raising. He’d seen many people who had come to find the flags of their loved ones. Some had come in previous years and knew exactly where to look. Others had to search for flags that had been placed for the first time. He said that many people had approached him to say thanks. But besides expressions of gratitude, said Hodes, “the response I’ve heard is how beautiful it is.”