WASHINGTON — Each year when Ami Neiberger arrives at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) on Memorial Day weekend to help organize the Memorial Day Flowers program, she’s coming to a place where she gets deeply familiar over the past years.
She visits the ANC regularly ever since her brother, Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, was buried in Section 60, after he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. She now knows the families of those buried near him as well.
"For me, it’s about connecting with other families," Neiberger said. "Many of them, I've shared long hours with at the cemetery. The first year after my brother died, I actually came here on a weekly basis. And so, I've shared a lot of time with those people. Special time, important time that was part of my journey."
The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation has been laying flowers at the gravesites since 2011. The practice now takes place nationwide. All the flowers - this year more than 180,000 - are donated.
"Many of [those donating] are from outside the US or are Americans who live overseas who work in the flower industry and for them this is about their patriotism, their love of their country, their love of our military and the freedoms it represents and ensures," said Neiberger.
Between 2,000-3,000 volunteers come out to help. The foundation also lays flowers on gravesites that are specially requested by families who don't get to visit the cemetery.
For Neiberger, the years since her brother's death have magnified his absence and given her new aspects to mourn and miss.
"He would’ve been a really fun uncle," she said. "And that’s one thing I think we’re missing a bit. We’ll never see him grow old, get married, have a family, become a father. All those things come back on Memorial Day too. The realization of not only what he was, which was wonderful, but also what he gave... He really cared about the soldiers he served with, he cared about the people in Iraq. He thought the work he was doing was meaningful and worthwhile and made a difference in the world."