Flags In - Memorial Day 2007
Today, as on each Memorial Day, there are flags flying in front of every grave at Arlington National Cemetery. More than 270,000 small flags were placed there Thursday afternoon. The Army calls it "Flags In" day.
It's a big military operation, conducted by the 3rd U.S. Infantry — known as the Old Guard, based at nearby Fort Myer.
About 3 p.m., when burials are finished for the day, trucks bring out big wooden crates and drop them off at each section of gravesites. The crates are full of flags, the wooden sticks still muddy from last year.
The flags have a sharp point on top and are pushed into the ground by hand, about a foot away from the front of each headstone.
Sergeant Jordan Ramsey's hands are protected by leather gloves, but he says he uses a Gatorade bottle cap to keep his palms from "getting stabbed."
One soldier says he prayed for rain to soften the ground, but his wish didn't materialize.
To help out with Flags In Day, other branches of the service have sent honor guards, but most of the flags are placed by The Old Guard.
It's Staff Sergeant Heather Tribble's third year on this duty.
"It's sad," she says. "Obviously, you see a lot of the older ones right next to some of the newer ones that we saw as we're going by — some that weren't there in our section last year. We do the same sections every year. It's kind of hard to think about it, but it's a nice thing to do for somebody."
About 6 p.m., an officer hears the faint notes of a bugle and calls his company to attention.
Taps is being played as part of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, on a hilltop at Arlington National Cemetery. By tradition, soldiers stand in respect at this sound.
As the day ends, Sergeant Michael Deems walks along with a pack of spare flags, making sure things look good. He's by himself and has a chance to think about this cemetery — the old graves and the new ones. He reads the headstones as he walks by them — graves of soldiers who have received the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
"There's one right over there ... he died in Iraq," Deems says. "I was there, too ...."
On Tuesday, before Arlington National Cemetery opens to the public, members of the Old Guard will retrieve the flags and put them into storage for next year's Memorial Day.
As the last funerals of the day were concluding in the newer sections of Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, the older sections were astir with activity.
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment roamed the sun-drenched memorial gardens. They carried rucksacks filled with bundles of sticks, each with an American flag attached. Moving from grave to grave, they implanted one flag at each, the dowel-like staff pushed into the turf a foot length from headstone or monument.
It was a detail unlike any other in the year.
Flags-in at Arlington National Cemetery begins the Memorial Day holiday. Soldiers of the 3rd, the Army’s Old Guard regiment, work as casket bearers, firing team members, caisson riders during the week. But placing the flags can be personal.
Soldiers of the Old Guard’s 289th MP Company seek duty in an area where a former member lies buried.
Chaplains gathered for a brief service at their memorial on Chaplain’s Hill. “We looked at the lesson from Joshua where the Israelites crossing the River Jordan were commanded to place stones for the benefit of later generations,” Military District of Washington Chaplain (Colonel) David Moran related. Stone monuments on the hill recall the chaplains who gave their lives in service.
Graves of Staff Sergeant David Veverka and William Long – former Old Guard Soldiers who will soon be made namesakes for the unit’s new maintenance facility – received flags from newer members. The 3rd has been placing stick flags before the graves for the Memorial Day weekend since becoming the Army’s ceremonial troop in 1948.
Both Veverka and Long were killed while serving in Iraq.
Sentries who would be providing honors at the Tomb of the Unknowns on other days were out in their ACU’s and soft caps. Among areas they covered were graves in the sections closest to the Memorial Amphitheater and at the comumbaria, where all who have rendered honorable military service may have their cremated ashes placed.
On Monday, the cemetery will be open as it is on every day of the year. A special Memorial Day ceremony will take place, a wreathlaying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and a service in Memorial Amphitheater.
It will be the 140th occasion that Arlington National Cemetery will be the focus of the national celebration since the original call of the Grand Army of the Republic to make May 30 (later the last Monday in May) the occasion for decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.
In 2007, there are nearly 300,000 graves, each with a personal symbol of the country and ideals for which the departed served.
At Arlington National Cemetery
24 May 2007
Air Force Airman 1st Class William Banton, of Roanoke, Virgina, salutes a grave as he places a U.S. flag at each gravestone inside the Arlington National Cemetery, May 24, 2007.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Jonathan Tomita salutes alongside a grave after placing a U.S. flag in front of it inside the Arlington National Cemetery, May 24, 2007
Air Force Staff Sargeant Odis King from Mitchell, Indiana, plants a U.S. flag at each gravestone inside the Arlington National Cemetery, May 24, 2007
Specialist Chase Neely and other sentinels from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came in on a day off to place flags in Section 48, near Memorial Amphitheater and the tomb.
Visitors watch the placement of American flags at headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. The long-standing custom may be as old as Decoration Day itself.
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry continue 'flags in' mission at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60. Awaiting headstones, Soldiers killed on patrol in Baghdad flank a group burial site for four members of a World War II bomber crew whose remains were identified through mitochondrial DNA