Memorial Day Flowers - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Memorial Day Flowers

Robin in High School

My friend Ramiro called me the other day.  He was in town and wanted to know if I was going to keep my promise to help him this Memorial Day weekend.  I had forgotten all about it, of course, but luckily I was able to make it and assured him I would be there.

I met Ramiro Penaherrera at boarding school in Switzerland years ago.  As with many of my friends from those days, we have kept in touch over the years either directly or through others.  At school we called him Robin because that was his “English” name.  He spoke fluent Spanish, like me, so we had that in common.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and attended Landon School in Bethesda before going off to boarding school.   After school he had a brief career as a stand up comedian in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I remember hearing he took his act on cruise ships as well.

RosesToday, thirty years later, he is President of LatinFlor, a successful organic farm in Quito, Ecuador.  He dabbles in chocolate and coffee but his main crop is flowers.  He also formed a group called Flowers for Kids for school children.  The website describes it as an interactive class that teaches children of all ages how to appreciate, care for, and arrange flowers.

In 2011, he formed an organization called Memorial Day Flowers and arranged for 10,000 roses and 200 bouquets to be donated to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  It was the beginning of an annual tradition.  This year he told me he is going nuts trying to coordinate 200,000 flowers in 27 states.  All donated by him and other farmers in Ecuador, Colombia, Canada, and the USA.  More than 3,300 volunteers worked to place the flowers on tombstones across the country.

Kevin Clifford, of Delaware Valley Floral Group, was the co-founder of this event and his donation includes logistics and transportation.  The two of them formed this organization because they wanted to honor, and bring attention to, the soldiers and their families.  But it was also personal.  Ramiro has five family members buried at Arlington Cemetery.

I agreed to meet him at the cemetery on the Sunday before Memorial Day to help put roses on tombstones.  Arlington National Cemetery sits on 620 acres directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

OneRowThe first burial was in 1864.  There are 70 sections.  Section 60 is devoted to people who lost their lives fighting the Global War on Terror since 2001.  Section 21 is devoted completely to Nurses.  The upright marble headstones have inscriptions engraved at no charge to the deceased estate.  There are 39 authorized faith emblems to choose from.

Today there are about 400,000 interments, second only the Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, NY.

The roses arrived by truck and were left at intervals.  We covered about six sections, placing one rose on top of each headstone.  It was a windy day and sometimes the roses would blow off which was confusing because I kept thinking I had missed one only to see the rose lying on the ground.  The section I worked was devoted to World War II and Korean Veterans.  I have no idea how many we placed but it seemed to go on forever and I was tired by the end of the day.

On Memorial Day itself they handed out two flowers to each visitor, one for the grave, and one to take home since we couldn’t cover all 400,000.


About the author

Kathy Gamble

Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on You can also follow her blog at Contact the author.

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