SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After two years and covid restrictions, the Santa Fe National Cemetery reopened its gates to welcome hundreds of people to a public Memorial Day ceremony.

“They’re very happy to be back because a Memorial Day ceremony is not about coming and visiting a loved one, it’s about you coming and being part of the ceremony and that is what happened today we allowed people to come back and be part of the ceremony,” said Santa Fe National Cemetery Director Victor Vasquez.

Vasquez says after the two-year hiatus many visitors were eager to use the holiday weekend to pay their respects. “We are seeing large numbers of people coming in the thousands, we have a table and we’ve had people stop in and we are looking at numbers anywhere from the last two days anywhere from 500 to 400,” said Vasquez.

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On Monday, more than 500 people were in attendance and every visitor who showed up had very different and personal reasons for being there. “Today I come to honor my father who passed away 52 years ago. He was a dedicated soldier, said Geronimo Darras. “My husband is buried here so that’s why we came out and then I have two grandsons in the military so we are very proud of them,” said Cecilia Benavidez.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was also one of many paying her respects, honoring New Mexico’s military men and women buried at the cemetery. “While we recognize the selflessness and grieve the loss of these thousands of lives we also celebrate our lives and the life of this great country which is only possible because of their ultimate sacrifice,” said Governor Lujan Grisham.

Currently, the cemetery holds 75,000 gravestones adorned with a single U.S. flag placed directly in front of each grave. “To me, it shows unity, it shows the military, it shows structures, it shows how our country honors our military.”

While each gravestone may hold a single flag at its forefront, not every fallen service member had a visitor during today’s ceremony. Nonetheless many showed up to pay them respect.

“Military service is very important to us and to our country and we came out here to honor them and to pray, also we prayed for their souls,” added Romero. “Because we have a history with Marine’s with my son, then we come out and look for a grave for a marine and even if we don’t know them we put a Marine flag next to their American flag just to honor their service.” said Denyse Vargas.

The Santa Fe National Cemetery is also planning an expansion. The cemetery director says they plan on adding more than 9,000 new burial sites.