Ramiro Penaherrera went into the flower business, not the military. But many in his family have worn our nation's uniforms. Five of those family members are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2011 he decided he wanted to do something more to honor his relatives and our nation's troops. As the owner of a successful flower farm in Ecuador, he realized the answer was clear.
"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," recalls Penahererra.
Since then, Memorial Day Flowers Foundation has grown both in terms of numbers and locations, with more than 400,000 flowers placed on vets' headstones across the country last year including more than 200,000 at Arlington.
Penaherrera credits volunteers for expanding the foundation's reach to several states and says 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."
In recent years, a farm in California has joined the effort and provides a bouquet to every Gold Star spouse and child who has a loved one buried at Arlington.
“It’s a legacy,” Ramiro says. “This is just my way of giving back, because my country means so much to me.”
The organization is always looking for more volunteers and is happy to help anyone who would like to bring the tribute to their area.
You can hear the full interview with Memorial Day Flowers co-founder Ramiro Penaherrera below.