Sunset Gardens hosts its 50th annual Memorial Day event

RICHLAND, Wash. – Monday morning was a beautiful, emotional and rainy day in Richland at Sunset Gardens as hundreds of people honored those who died in the armed forces on Memorial Day.

The graveyard hosted speakers, free food and music at the event center, and paratroopers carrying a 2,500 square foot American flag. Despite all the activity, the first thing you’ll notice upon entering Sunset Gardens is the Avenue of Flags.

Every traditional American flag displayed at Sunset Gardens has been donated to a veteran’s family and given back to Sunset Gardens for safekeeping and care. Each has a nameplate and the freshman flyers have a ribbon to indicate this. The flags fly for 24 hours on Memorial Day.

“It’s just as powerful to me today as it was the very first time I witnessed it,” said Holley Sowards, director of funeral operations.

According to Sowards, between 30 and 50 staff and volunteers showed up at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Memorial Day to begin setting up the flags, each to honor a community veteran.

The Avenue of Flags is a long-standing Sunset Gardens tradition.

“We started 50 years ago with 99 flags our first year,” Sowards said. “Our founders at Sunset Gardens actually launched the first Memorial Day program a year after it became a federally recognized holiday.”

According to Sowards, weather permitting, there’s a reason it’s called “Sunset Gardens.”

“The best time to go out is closer to sunset and it’s much quieter here during that time,” Sowards said.

The keynote speaker for the event was retired NCIS investigator Scott Jacobs, who recalled his service in the country and shared experiences from his time in counterintelligence.

Richland Mayor Michael Alvares and Rep. Dan Newhouse attended the event.

The half-centennial event allows people to honor those who gave their lives in the US military, and the patriotism in Richland was tangible.

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Joseph K. Bennett