Who Are the Arlington Ladies?


On any weekday in Arlington National Cemetery, as many as 30 war dead and veterans are laid to rest. The funeral ritual includes a spit-and-polish honor guard, the sharp crack of a rifle volley, a bugler’s mournful taps, and the presentation of a folded American flag. Then comes a moment of comforting. An Arlington Lady quietly speaks to the family and gives an envelope to the next of kin. In sweltering heat and freezing snow, Arlington Ladies ensure that no active-duty or veteran soldier, sailor, marine, airman or Coast Guardsman is buried alone. The envelopes contain a condolence card from the Armed Service’s Chief of Staff and a note that the Arlington Lady has handwritten, often after researching the service member online. Arlington Ladies began in 1948, when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife Gladys noticed that sometimes only the military chaplain was present at Arlington funerals. Someone from the Air Force family should always be there, they agreed, and she recruited friends at the Officers' Wives Club. Altogether, about 200 women participate in the program at any given time. Each has a connection to the service as wife, mother, widow or veteran. One unwritten rule applies to all Arlington Ladies: They don't cry. Ever.