No rest for Arlington National Cemetery’s minders of details

No rest for Arlington National Cemetery’s minders of details
Credit: Zach Gibson/The New York Times

Darrell Stafford inspected a freshly dug grave at Arlington National Cemetery recently and nodded. The burial plot, 5 feet by 10 feet, was ready for the coming ceremony. It was just one of 28 funerals that he would help oversee that day.

During his 32 years at the cemetery, Mr. Stafford has witnessed thousands of burials, and he has approached each one with military precision.

“You see a 22-year-old mother at a grave site who doesn’t have a husband anymore with her little kid,” he said. He has also seen veterans with missing limbs visit comrades’ graves. “In this business you see it day in and day out, and you can’t just start to think that this is routine.”

For many Americans, Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer — an extra day off to have picnics or go to the beach. But at Arlington National Cemetery it is among the busiest, most solemn of times. About 150,000 people were expected to flood through the cemetery’s black wrought-iron gates over the weekend, and the sentiment of the holiday is infused in the work done on the grounds throughout the year.

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