AF nurses lay wreaths at Arlington Cemetery
By Kevin M. Hymel, Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
/ Published December 11, 2015
FALLS CHURCH, Va. --
There might not be any snow on the ground or a chill in the air, but the Society of Air Force Nurses continued with an important holiday tradition on Dec. 11.
More than 30 active duty and retired nurses laid holiday wreaths on the graves of 127 military nurses at Arlington National Cemetery. The tradition started in 1982 when Brig. Gen. Sally Wells, the 10th Chief of the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps, brought other nurses to the cemetery after her retirement. “There was no significance in the date, explained Col. Diana Kupchella (USAF, Ret.), the Society’s East Central Region director. “She just thought we should do something to honor the nurses buried at the cemetery.”
The nurses first gathered at a statue of a nurse in the cemetery’s Section 21, where many nurses are buried, and laid red-, green- and gold-ribboned wreaths on the graves. Then they went to the nearby Officers’ Club at Fort Meyer for a luncheon. After that, they returned to the cemetery and spread out to lay more ribboned wreaths on the graves of other nurses and their families buried throughout the cemetery, including World War II flight nurses, considered pioneers in their field.
The nurses increased the remembrance by taking pictures of the wreath-laden graves and sending them to family members. “We do this not for ourselves,” said Kupchella, “we do this on behalf of the entire Nurses’ Society.” A few days after the ceremony Wreaths Across America will place wreaths on all the headstones at the cemetery, but the nurses’ headstones will be distinct because of the Society’s efforts.
Kupchella credits Brig. Gen. Linda Stierle (USAF, Ret.), the East Central Region’s memorial chairman for making this year’s event happen. “She did a vast amount of work on this,” said Kupchella. “She worked harder than anyone.”
Kupchella enjoyed placing wreaths in warm weather but admitted it’s a very moving experience in more wintry weather. Once, while laying wreaths close to the Pentagon in frosty temperatures, she noticed a change. “It got very quiet, there were no planes, no cars, and it started to snow,” she remembered. “That was very chilling.”