By Ian Graham
Men and women in uniform carried rucksacks full of small American flags, performing the ritual “flags-in” at Arlington National Cemetery despite the sun beating down on the white headstones and storm clouds loomed in the sky.
More than 1,500 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, “the Old Guard,” and servicemembers from ceremonial units in the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard joined the time-honored tradition this evening, placing more than 350,000 flags in the ground – one for each headstone and columbarium niche.
Sgt. Patrick Smith, from the Old Guard’s B Company, has placed flags in the cemetery for the past three years. Though the work itself can be repetitive, he said it’s the least he can do to pay tribute to his deceased brothers-in-arms, and considers it and honor to perform the work.
“Once you start walking, and you see the headstones, there’s a certain connection, sort of an esprit de corps,” Smith said. “You see them and you get a feeling for how many have given their lives. It doesn’t matter what rank they held or what service they were a part of, each are treated as honorably as the other, they each get a flag.”
Flags-in has been performed annually since 1948, when the Old Guard was named the Army’s official ceremonial unit. The Old Guard includes the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Continental Color Guard and all Army funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The flags will be removed early Tuesday, June 1, before the cemetery opens.
For more information, read the Defense.gov story, Troops Put “Flags In” at Arlington Cemetry