Old Guard Marks Graves With Flags to Honor Fallen Warriors
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, May. 25, 2013 A sea of tiny American flags flutters gently in the breeze now at Arlington National Cemetery. The flags were placed at gravesites May 23 in tribute to the service and sacrifice of the nation's fallen service members who rest there.
Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In advance of Memorial Day, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- carefully placed the flags by hand, one by one, in front of each gravestone at the cemetery.
"I think every soldier you will talk to, especially the Old Guard alumni, [say] that for them, ‘Flags In’ is one of the most meaningful things that Old Guard soldiers get to take a part in," said Army Maj. John Miller, spokesman for the Old Guard. "It's just overwhelming that you can go out and be amongst all these warriors that have gone before you and you can honor their legacy by just a single token of putting a flag at their gravesite and giving them a hand salute."
The Flags In event is an old tradition at the cemetery, Miller said.
"Flags In is a tradition that the Old Guard has carried on now for over 40 years -- though nobody has an exact date," he said.
The tradition actually goes back even further, though there was a break in the tradition for a while. But The Old Guard revived it after World War II. It dates back to the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 to honor Union Soldiers that had fallen during the Civil War, Miller said.
About 1,200 Old Guard soldiers participated in the event this year, and about 220,000 graves received a flag, as did memorial markers and rows of urns at the cemetery's columbarium. Miller said the soldiers were able to accomplish the task in about four hours -- beginning after the last full-honors funeral ended at the cemetery. That means, for the graves alone, a soldier placed a flag every 80 seconds.
The major said soldiers put a toe against the center of the stone, and then place the flag at the heel, providinging a uniform appearance. Uniformity and perfection is something that the Old Guard prides itself on, Miller said.
"The Old Guard soldiers are the last thing that a family sees as they bury their loved one from the Army," he said. "And that's what we try to give every service member's family. Their final vision of the Army is one of perfection and professionalism, and that is how we try to honor the fallen service members in the cemetery every year as well."
In addition to each grave marker at the cemetery receiving a flag, sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns placed flags at the graves of each of the four unknown service members interred there. Additionally, about 13,500 flags were placed at the Soldier's and Airmen's Cemetery in Washington, D.C.