WASHINGTON – There’s a lot of common ground between the Navy Arlington Ladies and the Sailors of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard. That was proven recently as the two groups came together to celebrate their passion for service and love of country.
A contingent of Navy Arlington Ladies visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) Dec. 3 to pay the ultimate compliment to their counterparts at Arlington National Cemetery. A gathering of food and gifts, mostly toys, for Sailors and their families. It’s an incredibly humbling display of appreciation between two groups that share a very honorable duty.
The Arlington Ladies is a group of women that attend the funeral of every member of the armed forces buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The group began in 1948 when then Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, were on a walk through the cemetery and saw a service member being buried without any family members or close friends present.
This prompted the couple to form a group that would later be known as the Arlington Ladies to attend Air Force funerals. The Army would go on to create a group of its own in 1972, while the Navy followed suit by adding the Navy Arlington Ladies in 1985.
Originally, women worked alone at the funerals. Though, escorts were eventually added when it was decided they should have an official part of the ceremony.
Arlington Ladies are military wives, widows, or prior service members themselves. They typically don’t know much about the service member being buried, except whatever details are provided to them by a chaplain. Their goal is to bring a personal touch on behalf of their respective military branch.
“Once you’re in the group, you’re always a part of it. It’s a lasting honor to those who have died,” said Jeanne Carr, a member of the Arlington Ladies. “We want our Guardsmen to know how important they are to all of us.”
The Navy Ceremonial Guard – with nearly 200 strong – has members at Arlington National Cemetery an average of five times a week for funerals, according to Senior Chief Anthony LaFrenier.
A native of Mobile, Ala., LaFrenier has been with the Navy Ceremonial Guard a little more than a year. According to him, the unit is the “tip of the sphere” and the “best of the best.” Like so many of his colleagues, he felt the holiday party was a tremendous act of kindness on behalf of the Navy Arlington Ladies.
“Due to the nature of our duty, this was an overwhelming act of generosity and support. It means a lot to us, particularly to our younger guys,” LaFrenier said. “The Navy Arlington Ladies are an amazing group in their own right. What they do on a volunteer basis can’t be put into words. We can’t thank them enough.”
Specialized platoons in the Navy Ceremonial Guard include a drill team, color guard, firing party and casket bearers. Guardsmen perform a variety of Navy and joint service ceremonies. It’s most somber duty is delivering funeral honors at every Navy service at Arlington National Cemetery, LaFrenier said.