VA to Mark 9/11 Attack Anniversary with Volunteer Opportunities at Cemeteries

Air Force veteran Tom Lacey joins other volunteers in cleaning headstones during Patriot Day at the Quantico National Cemetery, Triangle, Va.
Air Force veteran Tom Lacey joins other volunteers in cleaning headstones during Patriot Day at the Quantico National Cemetery, Triangle, Va., Sept. 11, 2019. (Lance Cpl. Paige Verry/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

This Sept. 11, more than 60 Veterans Affairs cemeteries will hold volunteer events as part of the National Day of Service, welcoming VA employees, veterans, family members and the public to take part in beautification efforts on their grounds.

The events are meant to honor the service members, veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders who served on that day, as well as post-9/11 veterans who gave their lives for their country in the past 22 years, according to the VA.

"On 9/11, we encourage all Americans to join us at one of our national cemeteries to volunteer and pay tribute to our nation's heroes," Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matt Quinn said in a release Thursday. "By volunteering on this day of service, by cleaning a headstone and saying their names, we tell these heroes our nation has not forgotten all they sacrificed for us."

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Volunteers largely will clean headstones at 66 participating national cemeteries, but they may be asked to plant flags or participate in other projects at the sites.

Two years ago, VA Secretary Denis McDonough and wife Kari volunteered at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia, scrubbing grave markers and placing American flags at gravesites.

"We wanted to demonstrate that this is an ongoing commitment, especially, to our 9/11 vets," McDonough said in an interview Thursday. "The idea is to get out, particularly on that day, to demonstrate again that we do not forget and we will not forget."

Volunteers have dedicated Sept. 11 as a day to engage in charitable service since the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. But Congress established Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009. That same year, President Barack Obama amended President George W. Bush's proclamation designating Sept. 11 as Patriot Day also as a day of service and remembrance.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The attacks launched the war in Afghanistan and resulted in the deaths of numerous al-Qaida leaders, including founder Osama Bin Laden, who was killed on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALs with support from CIA operatives.

The volunteer opportunities at the VA cemeteries mark the fifth year that Carry the Load, a nonprofit founded by two Navy SEALS to promote remembrance of fallen heroes on Memorial Day, has partnered with the VA's National Cemetery Administration for the events.

The VA website has information on which cemeteries are participating. To register as a volunteer, check out the Carry the Load website. Cleaning supplies and other materials will be provided, and there is no cost to participate.

The VA manages 155 cemeteries nationwide and funds an additional 121 state, territorial and tribal veterans cemeteries. Veterans who are eligible for VA burial benefits include all who were discharged under something other than dishonorable conditions; spouses or surviving spouses of eligible veterans; dependent children; and some others.

VA officials also reminded friends, family and loved ones to go to the Veterans Legacy Memorial website to locate their loved ones' pages and post photos and tributes. The online memorial contains pages for 4.8 million veterans interred at VA national cemeteries, as well as state, territorial, or tribal veteran cemeteries funded by the VA.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter or Threads @patriciakime

Related: This Memorial Day, VA Adds More than 300,000 Veterans to its Legacy Memorial Project Site

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