In light of COVID-19 restrictions and the required social distancing, Memorial Day this year looked much different for many. Not just in the usual way we celebrate by doing things like taking that first summer trip to the lake or having a cookout, but also in the way that we honor our fallen veterans.
Most military cemeteries, such as Arlington National in Washington D.C., are closed to most visitors, only allowing family members to visit the graves of their loved ones.
But as one woman noted, visiting the graves of the fallen is not just something for the family to take part in.
Emily Domenech, who has worked closely with military members for much of her early career as a deployed civilian, knows personally of the deep bonds that are formed in service to our nation. Year after year, she has watched as hundreds of servicemen and women come to pay tribute and honor to the friends and fellow soldiers who fought so bravely alongside them.
But this year, they aren’t allowed to visit.
Domenech thought to remedy this for at least one person by offering to memorialize the graves of those who may have bee visited by a veteran friend of hers. She was already on her way to Arlington to visit the grave of her grandfather, who had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. So Domenech texted her friend to ask if there were anyone he would like her to visit on his behalf.
But after waiting several minutes without getting a response, she decided to take it to Twitter.
She wrote, “Does anyone have buddies buried in Arlington who they would like visited today? Since only family members are allowed in, I would be honored to pay respects on your behalf…”
She said she expected to get “like 10 or 12 requests, which I thought would be cool to do.” She said, “I got like a couple of replies right away.”
One of those was from Amber Smith, who asked Domenech if she could pay respects to the grave a Mike Slebodnik who had served with her in Afghanistan and was killed in action.
— Emily Domenech (@ehdomenech) May 25, 2020
However, in the short time it took Domenech to track down Slobodnik’s grave, news of her offer nearly went viral. And it didn’t take long before she had a list that seemed a mile long.
Hundreds of people had replied to her simple offer from all across the nation, making Domenech feel as though she had maybe bit off more than she could chew.
“I was like, ‘oh no, I’m wildly unprepared to di this properly. It started to get really overwhelming very quickly.” But with the help of a few friends and family members, she was able to sort out the actual requests from the ‘omg, you are so awesome’ comments and make some sort of headway.
She and her parents soon returned to the cemetery, where she continued to visit the resting places of our fallen heroes. By the end of the day, Domenech estimated that she had memorialized about 60 graves by proxy and only left when the cemetery closed.
Domenech said, “it never occurred to me that this would be such an impressive thing to so many people.” But more than that, she said it was a very poignant reminder that no matter how bad the world seems and how much chaos is going on around us, we can still do good.
As a Senior Policy Advisor to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Domenech says, “It is easy to be jaded around here and let things become impersonal.” And in a time when the media seems to only focus on the negativity of politics and the consistent jabs from one side or the other, it’s nice to be reminded that social media can, in fact, be used for good.
Domenech said that many Twitter users, whether they requested a visit from her or not, offered to send her money or to just “buy her a beer.” But instead of accepting the money, she told people to donate to veteran charities such as Boot Campaign or the Travis Manion Foundation, which works with the family members of those who have fallen in service.
The massive response has also inspired Domenech to continue this kind of outreach for years to come. She quickly realized there is a need for such, regardless of coronavirus. Oh’ that we would all have such a heart for others and those who have served so selflessly.