Never Forget

Never Forget

Obama makes surprise visit to honor Alexandria’s fallen.

Former President Barack Obama places a flag at the grave of a fallen service member May 25 at Alexandria National Cemetery. Photo by Debbie Gray

Former President Barack Obama places a flag at the grave of a fallen service member May 25 at Alexandria National Cemetery. Photo by Debbie Gray

Former President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Alexandria National Cemetery, rolling up his sleeves and joining veterans, Scouting America troops, active-duty military personnel and volunteers May 25 in placing American flags at the graves of soldiers in honor of Memorial Day.

“Each Memorial Day Michelle and I try to do something in order to simply say ‘thank you,’” said Obama in his impromptu remarks. “It is to remind ourselves to be part of that remembrance of those who made such extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf and on behalf of future generations.”

Obama worked alongside several hundred volunteers, including Scouts, Civil Air Patrol Cadets, local church groups, and veterans at the annual Flags In event which places flags at each of the 4,229 graves at the cemetery.  

Col. Gerald Krueger (ret) is Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 609 in Alexandria and organizer of the Flags In event at the cemetery.

“The Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Tanya Bradsher, was on hand as our VIP for the morning,” Krueger said. “But a few minutes before we were set to begin our program, I was pulled aside and told that another VIP wanted to join in – President Obama – but that he wanted to remain inconspicuous. He did his best but it wasn’t possible.”

Krueger said that Obama spent more than an hour placing flags and flowers at the graves of soldiers. He then spent time visiting with volunteers and cemetery workers.

“He was incredibly gracious with his time,” Krueger said.  “He took the time to speak with every Scout, asking about their schooling and posing for photos. He was laid back and easy going and didn’t make this a political event.”

Located at 1450 Wilkes Street in Old Town, Alexandria National Cemetery is the final resting place for veterans from all wars dating to the Civil War. This includes 249 US Colored Troops who fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War, and the graves of 51 Vietnam veterans and several veterans from the Middle East wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Following Obama’s brief remarks, Krueger thanked the former president, placing a Challenge Coin from the VFW in Obama’s palm as the two shook hands.

“The Challenge Coin exchange is a tradition in the military,” Krueger said. “To my surprise, President Obama reached in his pocket and gave me a Challenge Coin and said that he would leave several with me to be given to the workers who clean up the cemetery. It was really a very special gesture for everyone.”

Alexandria National Cemetery was first established during the Civil War by a July 1862 Act of Congress, predating the creation of Arlington National Cemetery in May of 1864.

Obama thanked the volunteers and the veterans service organizations that hosted the event.

“I thank each and every one of you for being out here,” Obama said. “All of you are here for the same reasons – a reminder that there are certain ties that bind us together as Americans, regardless of our differences.”

The flags will remain in place through June 2.