This weekend, hundreds of volunteers will gather at Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of people they have no connection to. Throughout the day, they will place wooden flags to honor thousands of veterans on behalf of loved ones who weren’t able to travel to Arlington. The Honor Project, as the effort is called, is the brainchild of Alexandria’s Emily Domenech, who has teamed up with the Pennsylvania-based Travis Manion Foundation, a non-profit that offers support to veterans and the families of fallen soldiers. Together, Domenech and Manion Foundation founder Ryan Manion (who named the organization after her brother, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2007) have gathered 300 volunteers to help pay tribute to 4,000 veterans this weekend. “Memorial Day is [when] civilians are really looking for a way to honor and be grateful for veterans,” says Domenech, a senior policy advisor House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We’ll give people that opportunity to take a moment and be grateful to those who sacrificed to give them the opportunity to spend time with their families.”
Domenech came up with the idea last Memorial Day, when she went to visit her grandfather’s grave at the cemetery. The pandemic was raging, and she realized that many families wouldn’t be able to make the trip that year. So she tweeted out an offer to visit other veterans’ graves while she was at the cemetery. Domenech thought she might hear from a handful of her friends. Instead, she got dozens of requests from all across the country. She spent the whole day at the cemetery, going to 60 grave sites and posting the pictures on Twitter (she left briefly to stock up on flowers, which she left at many of the graves). Though she had hoped to visit even more, the cemetery finally closed for the day and the security guards wanted her to leave.
While the Honor Project was created as a result of the pandemic, Domenech and Manion both want to continue the program after it’s over. “We see this as the pilot for something bigger,” Manion says. “The hope is that we can expand beyond Arlington to national veterans cemeteries across the country.” In the meantime, Arlington National Cemetery has now reopened to the general public, so Domenech hopes that everyone who is able will stop by, even if they don’t have relatives buried there. “Take the time to go visit and walk among the people who sacrificed for you,” Domenech says. “It will move you. There’s no way that it won’t.”