When Rita Sullivan learned from her family that they were sending her to Washington, D.C. to help with the placing wreaths on the graves of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery; she was really surprised.
“They don’t get me often, but they got me this time,” she said then.
This past Friday, as she and her son, Tye, prepared to board their flight to the nation’s capital, she was surprised – again.
After getting through security; as she approached her gate, she was surprised by a large contingency of her family members – including her other two sons: Scotty and Jason.
Not only was Rita going to Arlington, but almost all of her family was coming along to help, as well.
Tye began to distract Rita as they approached the gate, interviewing her with his ‘Go Pro’ camera.
“Then there they were, all 11 of them,” she smiled. “Everybody in the family except for five of them.”
The trip was delayed again when one of the stewardesses on the flight became sick while in St. Louis, so there was a four hour delay while they waited on a replacement. Finally arriving in Washington, a planned walking tour didn’t happen because it was too dark; and a 6 a.m. wake up call awaited for Saturday morning.
“The gates opened at 8 a.m. at Arlington,” Rita said. “We took the metro and were there when the gates opened.”
The weather wasn’t cooperating, however, as the morning was met by pouring rain and cold temperatures; but that didn’t stop the Sullivans, figuring that those veterans didn’t stop their service because of weather, so they weren’t going to let some cold rain keep them from honoring their memories.
“We were in line for awhile,” Rita said. “The website said there were 44,000 volunteers there that day. Last year it was 65 degrees and they said there were 60,000 volunteers.”
Rita had taken ponchos and hand warmers with her, so after organizers canceled the opening ceremonies because of the weather, everyone headed to different sections of the cemetery, where 60 semi trucks were parked and filled with wreaths.
“We started in Section 54 and 55, and they would only give you two, because they wanted to make sure that everybody had wreaths; even the little guys. That had asked everybody to read the names aloud and remember and reflect on their service,” Rita said.
After placing their two wreaths, everyone went back for two more, again standing in line to wait to honor those veterans. Rita estimates that she placed 13 wreaths because on her last trip they handed her three wreaths; while others in her family placed 12 each.
She said that everyone was in the cemetery for about 2 1/2 hours, and after that time, all of the 245,000 wreaths were placed.
The specter of the sight of all of those green wreaths placed on the simple, white stones was awe inspiring.
“I saw on a video that said those soldiers all die twice,” Rita said quietly. “They die once when they took their last breath; and they die again when nobody says their name out loud. It touches your soul. If it doesn’t, then something’s wrong. I think everybody in our family will have come back changed because of it. To get to do it as a family, that was really special.”