SAN DIEGO — Nearly 50,000 red roses arrived in a giant U-Haul Sunday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Each rose will be laid in honor of our fallen heroes as part of the annual Truman San Diego Memorial Day Sunrise Rose Ceremony on Monday morning.
The ceremony has become an annual tradition — all starting with one veteran paying his respects.
“Three of four years before I got out of the Navy, I started bringing roses at sunrise to Fort Rosecrans, just as my personal way of remembering,” said Sean Van Diver, the founder of the Memorial Day Rose Ceremony.
Van Diver, a 12-year veteran, had no idea his burial detail duties in the Navy would one day grow into something much more.
“An elected official said to me that he couldn’t wait for Memorial Day, because they wanted to go hit the beach, and I said, ‘You know, you represent a lot of people with family members that have given their lives — you’ve got to do something,” said Van Diver.
That year, the first official public Memorial Day Sunrise Rose Ceremony was born. It continued to grow from its first iteration in 2015, gaining more roses, volunteers and attendees each year.
“We started with a thousand roses and 20 people; the next year was 140 people and 6,000 roses; last year we had 30,000 roses, 5 wreaths and 1,000 people,” said Van Diver.
This year, they have 48,000 roses for Rosecrans National Cemetery alone, and veteran guest speakers such as Matt Zeller, who flew out specifically for the ceremony and to share his story.
“I should actually be one of the people buried in a place like this and the only reason I’m not is because 10 years ago, on the 14th day of my war, my translator actually killed two guys who were about to kill me in a firefight,” said Zeller.
Veterans like Van Diver and Zeller say they want people to enjoy the holiday, but to remember why it exists.
“Go out, hit the beach. Go out, hit the bars. Have a great time on Memorial Day, but take a second, pause, and remember and reflect on why we have this day off,” Van Diver said.
Zeller added, “It’s not about those of us who are living; it’s about those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families.”
Monday’s Memorial Day Sunrise Rose Ceremony begins at 5:30 a.m. at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.