Each year, Emily Domenech visits Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with her family to honor their hero, her grandfather John Domenech.
John was an Army colonel who served in World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He passed away in 2006.
“I visit his grave every Memorial Day and Veterans Day to honor him, and usually, it’s pretty crowded,” Emily said.
However, in 2020, the cemetery was unusually empty due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Only family members were allowed to visit, and with travel restrictions in place across the nation, few were able to make the journey.
As Emily wandered the empty rows of graves, she was sad that so many fallen soldiers were going without recognition. On a whim, she tweeted a life-changing message.
“Does anyone have buddies buried in Arlington who they would like visited today?” she asked. “Since only family members are allowed in, I would be honored to pay respects on your behalf….”
Her phone began to blow up with requests, and not just from people she knew. Total strangers jumped at the opportunity to pay their respects remotely. Emily ended up visiting dozens of graves and spent over six hours sharing photos of veterans’ headstones for their family and friends near and far.
“I visited 60 graves and had such a huge response, I thought, ‘Something special is happening here,'” Emily said.
She knew this was more than just a viral blip on the radar and decided to do the same thing in 2021. She teamed up with a support organization for veterans and families of fallen soldiers called the Travis Manion Foundation. Together, they created The Honor Project, an initiative that places American flags on the graves of 4,000 soldiers in Arlington and then shares photos of their memorials using the hashtag “TheHonorProject.”
“Not everyone can make it to Arlington, even without a pandemic going on,” Emily said. “This is a way for them to still take part on Memorial Day, even if they live on the other side of the country.”
We remember Sergeant First Class #AndrewWeathers, a Green Beret and Special Forces medical sergeant who made the ultimate sacrifice while conducting an operation in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. #TheHonorProject pic.twitter.com/1SMYhN0rRP— Rosie Wilson (@RosemaryEWilson) May 31, 2021
Emily is delighted that her “spur-of-the-moment tweet” has taken off in a lasting tribute to our heroes. She has heard from the families of veterans all over the country who are grateful to finally see their loved one’s headstone.
“It was moving to support a person I’d never met,” Emily explained. “And it was cool to have that personal connection.”
This year, she had more than 300 people volunteer to help with The Honor Project on Memorial Day!
All it took was the spark of an idea to get this project soaring! Emily found the perfect way to ensure our fallen veterans get the respect and honor they deserve, no matter how far away their loved ones may be.
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