On May 22, 2022, Arlington National Cemetery’s Superintendent Charles “Ray” Alexander put on a safety harness and climbed into a cherry picker. The machine raised him about 30 feet to the apse of the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. Once he reached the top, he pulled on a rope attached to an American flag below. As he drew up the rope, the flag unfurled out of its box as U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Donny Davis, the senior enlisted advisor to ANC’s executive director, steadied the flag and ensured it did not touch the ground.
To prepare for the annual National Memorial Day Observance, ANC’s facilities maintenance team raised flags in both the Memorial and Tanner Amphitheaters.
Alexander, a retired Army colonel, took the flag-raising job seriously. “I’m just proud that I had the honor to do this,” he said. He also enjoyed the chance to work outdoors on a sunny spring day. “I went into the Army to be outside,” he explained, “so since I retired, I get out whenever I can.”
After Sgt. Maj. Davis helped Alexander and the team raise the flags in Memorial Amphitheater, he raised a few of his own around Tanner. Climbing a ladder in ANC’s smaller, original amphitheater—completed in 1873 to accommodate the crowds that attended the annual Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) ceremony—he hung flags from the latticework between the brick columns. A veteran of conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, Davis enjoyed preparing the cemetery for Memorial Day. “Anything I can do to assist honoring veterans and this nation, does my heart well,” he stated.
Other Army veterans on the team also raised and hung flags. Roy Rexroat, chief of grounds and facilities maintenance, ensured the flags were hung appropriately. “This is my part to support history as a civil servant,” he explained. David Coeloho, maintenance mechanic, also felt the gravity of the moment. “It’s nice to be part of something bigger,” he said, “to make sure everyone else is celebrated.”
Once the team finished in Tanner Amphitheater, Alexander took in the scene of the flags swaying in the breeze. “Every day here is an honor,” he reflected, “but Memorial Day, when we truly honor those who have served and fallen, is different, it’s special.”