Thursday, May 7, 2009
U.S. Air Force photo byStaff Sgt. Raymond Mills
A brief historical background of the Arlington Ladies’ service and mission was given during the luncheon. Shortly after, Col. Jon A. Roop, 11th Wing commander, presented Linda Willey, Air Force Arlington Ladies chairperson, a plaque honoring the service, dedication and volunteerism of the Air Force Arlington Ladies, and wished them 60 more years of honorable service.
The Air Force Arlington Ladies were formed in 1948 when the Air Force Chief of Staff at the time, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, and his wife, Gladys, noticed several Airmen being laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery without friends or family present, with only the chaplain presiding over the ceremony and the honor guard to render a final salute.
‘‘In those days, traveling cross-country for a funeral at Arlington for most people was impossible,” Willey said.
In an effort to make sure no Airman ever went to his final resting place alone or un-mourned, Mrs. Vandenberg made it a point to attend services when family or friends could not be present. As the Air Force grew, so did the number of services held at Arlington. Mrs. Vandenberg then began to recruit some of her own friends to attend these services. These became the first Air Force Arlington Ladies. Later, Mrs. Vandenberg created the Arlington Committee within the Air Force Officers’ Wives Club. The committee still is a part of the Air Force Spouses’ Club.
There are presently about 40 spouses of either active-duty or retired Air Force officers who form the committee, 12 of whom have more than 20 years of experience and are considered honorary members. Twenty members are assigned to one day each month and the rest fill in as substitutes. They have donated a collective 63,000 hours of volunteer time to attend services for military members.
Today, there is an Air Force Arlington Lady or Gentleman present at each service held for active-duty, retired or veteran service members buried at Arlington. As part of the ceremony, the attending committee member presents a sympathy card to the surviving family and friends from the Air Force chief of staff as well as a personal note of condolence. If no loved ones are present, a letter describing the ceremony is written and mailed along with the notes.
Every service but the Marine Corps has its own group of Arlington Ladies who attend services for members of their respective branch. The Army Arlington Ladies was founded in 1972 followed by the Navy in 1985, and the Coast Guard currently is forming its own. The Marine Corps does not have an Arlington Ladies group; instead, the Commandant of the Marine Corps sends a representative to Arlington for Marine funerals on his behalf.
‘‘It’s a very moving experience,” said Mykell Brewer, who has been an Arlington Lady since 1983. Brewer’s husband is a retired colonel with 28 years of service in the Air Force. ‘‘There’s a great deal of satisfaction in it, but it’s also sad because you feel for the families and their loss. It’s an experience I would not trade for anything.”