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These volunteer women are known as "The Arlington Ladies." They attend every funeral at Arlington to ensure, first and foremost, that no soldier is ever buried with no one in attendance, and second, to serve the needs of family members, whether they are present at the funeral or not.
Normally it isn't difficult to get someone to go on record about a noble pursuit. The first reaction to the prospect of a laudatory article is rarely reticence. But this group of no-nonsense women did not jump at the chance to talk about themselves. In fact, they were surprisingly difficult to track down at all. This is probably at least partially because the vast majority of Arlington Ladies are either retired servicewomen themselves or from military families, a culture not given to bragging.
"They don't seek publicity," Army Major Kevin Stroop, a regimental chaplain who performs funerals at Arlington, said. "What they do here is absolutely vital to our mission, but those moments they share with the families and our servicemen and women are intensely personal. The Arlington Ladies, as a group, really are committed to keeping those moments and their work sacred."
Joyce Johnson remembers the drums beating slowly as she walked with her girls from the Old Post Chapel, behind the horse-drawn caisson carrying the flag-draped casket of her husband.
She remembers struggling to maintain her composure as she stared at his freshly dug grave, trying not to dwell on the terrible sight in the distance — the gaping hole in the Pentagon where he had so proudly worked.
The three-volley salute. Taps. The chaplain handing her a perfectly folded flag. The blur of tributes.
And then a lady stepped forward, a stranger, dressed not in uniform but in a simple dark suit. She whispered a few words and pressed two cards into Johnson’s hands.
“If there is anything you need ... ”
Then she melted back into the crowd.
Later Johnson would think of her as a touchingly, human presence in a sea of starched uniforms and salutes. She would learn that the stranger was an “Arlington lady” — one of a small band of volunteers, mainly spouses of retired military officers, who attend every funeral in Arlington National Cemetery. She would read the notes — a formal one from the Army Chief of Staff and his wife, and a personal handwritten one from the Arlington lady herself.
She would learn of their mission: to ensure no soldier is buried alone.