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Federal agency should honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice

American Battle Monuments Commission should help Gold Star families honor the fallen buried overseas by reinstating, and encouraging the use of, its discontinued floral program.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon, France.Andrea Mantovani/NYT

On this Memorial Day, the nation will once again pay homage to those who died in service to the United States. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it is altogether fitting and proper that we do so. The reverence of that recognition should be the absolute focus of Memorial Day.

Most service members are buried in the United States, but approximately 234,000 are interred or commemorated in 26 American military cemeteries overseas and 36 memorials, which are operated by a federal government agency, the American Battle Monuments Commission.

One aspect of Memorial Day’s reverent recognition deals with America continuing to honor the buried-overseas loved ones of Gold Star families (families of service members who died on active duty).


Until 2015, Gold Star families or friends of the fallen could order flowers to be placed at their loved one’s grave or inscribed memorial wall in any ABMC cemetery through the ABMC Floral Program. To send flowers, one simply completed a card, wrote a check to pay for the flowers, and mailed them to the ABMC in Arlington, Va. That was it.

ABMC staff sorted the requests and funds by cemetery, mailed the cards and payments to their local flower providers overseas, and enjoyed the benefits of volume purchasing. Flowers were dependably delivered on any significant dates requested, and a grave or memorial site photo was sent to the sender stateside along with a new order card for future orders. The system was simple and effective and it echoed the sacred commitment of America’s continuing care and support to service members.

In 2015, the ABMC ended the service, saying that the program was too administratively burdensome, not inherently a government responsibility, and somehow competed with the commercial flower industry.

America’s Gold Star families and friends with service people buried overseas were unable to obtain flowers reliably. Although ABMC published contact information for international florists, the process was time-consuming, frustratingly complex, ever-changing, and significantly more expensive for the families it was intended to serve.


General John Pershing stated in his 1923 inaugural address as the first chairman of the ABMC, “Time will not diminish the glory of their deeds.” He was assuring America’s continued support to those interred overseas and their families. The ABMC mission statement explains that the organization exists to assist the families of the fallen in honoring their loved ones.

Yet, here we stand, having severed their last government link to reverent recognition of their fallen. Despite numerous calls to reinstate the program, ABMC remains unmoved.

The ABMC should not only reinstate the floral program, it should actively encourage families to use it. The Gold Star families, friends, and next generations growing up here, an ocean away from their loved ones overseas, deserve that support. It’s efficient and the right thing to do. Plus, it’s their job.

John Kelly is former White House chief of staff, former US secretary of Homeland Security, and former commander of the US Southern Command. He was born and raised in Boston.