In honor of Arbor Day and to pay respects to U.S. service members, officials planted five oak tree saplings at Arlington National Cemetery April 27.
The saplings were grown from acorns taken from the renowned “Arlington Oak,” a 220-year-old tree that was felled by Hurricane Irene in August 2011. The old oak tree stood in the area of the cemetery’s Kennedy family burial site. Several years ago, the nonprofit American Forests organization collected acorns from the old oak and grew the saplings.
Three of the saplings were planted near the Kennedy family gravesite. Of the remaining two saplings, one was planted in section 26, near the old amphitheater and the other in section 36, near Custis Walk.
“On this ground we have the opportunity to re-establish a lost national landmark with its very own offspring,” said keynote speaker Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. “We can do this because Arlington National Cemetery and American Forests had foresight. They collected acorns from that landmark tree next to President [John F.] Kennedy’s gravesite to prepare for an inevitable future.”
Cemetery historian Tom Sherlock said when President Kennedy visited Arlington House in the spring of 1963, the Arlington oak was prominent in his view as he looked down upon Washington, D.C.
Kennedy said he was taken with the “magnificent” view, Sherlock said, noting the president also remarked that he “could stay there forever.” That area near the tree was later chosen as Kennedy’s burial site.
Today, a single oak sapling where the old tree once stood also represents a tribute to U.S. service members, Hammack said.
“When we were planning today’s ceremony, the 1973 song, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree’ came to mind,” she said. “We have lost the old oak tree of a 220-year legacy, but we have an opportunity to tie a yellow ribbon around the young oak tree.”
Arlington cemetery’s saplings, Hammack said, remind Americans “of those men and women who are serving in harm’s way” to protect the nation.
“On behalf of a grateful nation and the U.S. Army, this serves as a welcome home to all service men and women,” she said.
Hammack then tied a yellow ribbon around the young tree.