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PHOTOS: President Barack Obama Joins Community Placing Flags on Soldier Graves in Alexandria National Cemetery

"It's the sober recognition of the sacrifices that so many Americans and their families have made to preserve our freedom" -- Barack Obama, May 25, 2024

President Obama salutes grave.
President Barack Obama saluted over 200 individual grave markers as he joined other volunteers placing flags and flowers in honor of Memorial Day, in the Alexandria National Cemetery on May 25, 2024. (Photo: Diane Devendorf)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Saturday, May 25, 2024 at 9:30 a.m. President Barack Obama showed up to help at Alexandria National Cemetery and surprised over 400 volunteers and other members of the public who were there to participate in the community’s annual tradition of placing flags on soldiers’ graves in honor of Memorial Day.

A flag and flowers were placed at more than 4,200 soldiers’ graves in Alexandria National Cemetery, May 25, 2024. (Photo: David Heiby)

“It was surreal. There was absolutely no fanfare,” said Diane Devendorf, who was on site with her two daughters.  “They pulled up in two cars, two doors opened, and people were whisked out.  We assumed they were Goldstar families.”

Obama was understated in gray jeans and a black button up with rolled-up sleeves, and was not there for a  photo opportunity. “He really didn’t want to take photos. He was there to work,” added Devendorf.

Barack Obama at microphone in Alexandria National Cemetery.
President Barack Obama at the microphone on Saturday, May 25, 2024 addressing the crowd at Alexandria National Cemetery before he helped place flags and flowers on soldiers graves. (Photo: Lori Crandall)

“He personally planted over 200 flags,” said local historian and tour guide David Heiby, who commented that the president also placed flowers at each of the graves. The flowers were donated by the National Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, a nonprofit organization that began handing out 10,000 flowers to visitors at Arlington National Cemetery in 2011. In 2023, over 300,000 flowers were placed at ANC, with an additional 200,000 flowers sent to various cemeteries throughout the country, , including Alexandria.

President Barack Obama holding small bouquet of flowers for soldier grave.
Barack Obama with flowers he personally placed on 200 of the more than 4,200 soldiers’ graves at Alexandria National Cemetery on May 25, 2024. (Photo: David Heiby)

“He saluted every grave he placed,” noted Devendorf.

Alexandria National Cemetery was first established during the Civil War by a July 1862 Act of Congress. When it ran out of room in May 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was started.

The “Flags Out” event at the Alexandria National Cemetery for Memorial Day is sponsored and hosted every year by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 609. It remembers and honors more than 4,200 burials there, including 3,900 Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. Among those are 249 United States Colored Troops.

President Barack Obama with head bowed in cemetery.
President Barack Obama bowed his head in moment of silence at each grave he visited on May 25, 2024 in Alexandria National Cemetery. (Photo: Lori Crandall)

“Each Memorial Day Michelle and I try to do something in order simply to say thank you,” remarked President Obama from an informal microphone. “All of you are here for the same reason. It’s a reminder that there are certain ties that bind us together as Americans, regardless of our differences.”

The flags will be viewable until next weekend.

This report has been updated. An earlier version stated that there are 4,300 burials at the cemetery. The number is 4,200 and has been added.

In other news: Nats Blast Their Way to a 6-1 Win Over Seattle







Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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