Ramiro Penaherrera went into the flower business, not the military. But many in his family have worn our nation's uniforms. For proof of that, you only need to visit Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for 5 of his relatives.
It's because of that deep familial connection to the military that Penahererra sought to find a way to honor veterans, and found it through the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation. Penahererra, along with two other Americans based in Ecuador where they work in the flower business came up with the idea of offering flowers to be placed on veteran's headstones, and he knew just the place to do it.
"I said 'well, I've got five members of my family at Arlington, let me see if they want some roses,'" Penahererra recalls. "I called Arlington that day and offered them 10,000 roses from Ecuador and they said yes within 24 hours. That's how the whole thing started. We gave out the 10,000 roses at the welcome center that first year in about two and a half hours."
Since then Memorial Day Flowers has grown both in terms of numbers and locations, with over 400,000 flowers placed on vets' headstones across the country last year including over 200,000 at Arlington. Penaherrera credits volunteers for expanding the foundation's reach to several states and says that he hopes the growth continues to the point where they can lay a flower on every grave at Arlington and beyond. While that's a very "big picture" goal, Penaherrera says the Memorial Day event itself is very intimate and personal for those who take part.
"It takes about an hour and a half to do. It's a quiet tribute, and a quite personal tribute," Penaherrera says. "As you're placing the flower in front of the headstone you read, quietly, the name of the person and read the complete inscription, and thank the person for the service they've given to our country."
Penaherrera says the organization is always looking for more volunteers and is happy to help anyone who would like to bring the tribute to their home area.
You can hear the full interview with Memorial Day Flowers co-founder Ramiro Penaherrera below.
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