Airmen, families, friends remember loved ones at Arlington

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher Gross
  • Air Force News Service
Nearly 50,000 volunteers came together to place remembrance wreaths on the headstones of about 230,000 veterans during the 23rd Annual National Wreaths Across America Day Dec. 13, at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Airmen from all around the Washington D.C. area, along with friends and families of fallen warriors were among the thousands.

One of those family members of a fallen warrior was Susan Zerbe, of York, Pennsylvania, who lost her son, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Zerbe. He was killed when a CH-47 Chinook he was on crashed in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province Aug. 6, 2011.

Zerbe’s mother said he was an amazing son and was always determined to help others. As an Air Force Special Operations Command pararescueman she said he epitomized the motto, “that others may live.”

As she stood by grave with the wreath already laid, she reminisced about what a “jokester,” her son was growing up and how he loved the outdoors. “He was an incredible human being, and I’m so proud I got to be his mother,” she said.

Helping lay remembrance wreaths like on that of Zerbe’s was Lt. Col. David Burnett, assigned to the Joint Staff, J1, Plans and Readiness Personnel Readiness Division at the Pentagon. Surrounded by the thousands of volunteers that showed up to pay their respects to veterans of all generations, Burnett said he felt a great sense of pride and was humbled by the experience.

One of the things Burnett said he enjoyed seeing was the amount of children who came out to help with the event.

“It’s great, you see these (kids) with so much energy (and) it’s a learning thing for them,” Burnett said. “They can really get an appreciation of what these folks have done for our country.”

That energy could be seen as a Boy Scout troop from New York helped unpack one of the 80 trucks full of wreaths in which Maj. Michael Hayek, the close air support branch chief and the air liaison officer career field manager at the Pentagon, was in charge of.

“To me, that’s the type of mentorship (and) leadership we need to instill for young kids,” Hayek said as he also reflected on his thoughts of seeing all the remembrance wreaths laid out.

“To see something like this is very impressive, very moving. It just makes you understand and appreciate what (it) is that we do and what it is that we’re apart of for our country,” said Hayek, who has friends buried at Arlington and whose father is also buried in a military cemetery.

(Some information courtesy of Wreaths Across America press release)