• Staff Sgt. Victor Whaley, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), waits in front of a fallen veteran's grave stones as a Soldier walks by grabbing a bundle of American flags in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 24. Each year for the past 40 years, the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment has honored America's fallen heroes by placing American flags before the gravestones and niches of service members buried at both Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery just prior to Memorial Day weekend. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

    Flags in

    Staff Sgt. Victor Whaley, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), waits in front of a fallen veteran's grave stones as a Soldier walks by grabbing a bundle of American flags in Arlington National Cemetery...

  • Staff Sgt. Victor Whaley, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), places an American flag in front of fallen veteran's grave stones in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 24. During an approximately three-hour period, the soldiers place flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones and about 7,300 niches at the cemetery's columbarium. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

    Flags in

    Staff Sgt. Victor Whaley, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), places an American flag in front of fallen veteran's grave stones in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 24. During an approximately...

  • Staff Sgt. Victor, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), untangles a bunch of American flags in front of fallen veteran's grave stones in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 24. This tradition, known as "flags in," has been conducted annually since The Old Guard was designated as the Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948. Every available soldier in the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment participates, placing small American flags one foot in front and centered before each grave marker. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

    Flags in

    Staff Sgt. Victor, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), untangles a bunch of American flags in front of fallen veteran's grave stones in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., May 24. This tradition, known as...

During this Memorial Day weekend, people traveled to cemeteries across the country to honor our nation's fallen heroes, and the same can be said for Soldiers of 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) who have honored the fallen since 1948 in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), Va.
More than 1,500 Soldiers walked through Arlington National Cemetery very carefully placing small American flags in front of every grave and head stone.

Staff Sgt. Victor Whaley, in his fifth year journeying through the cemetery for "flags-in," said there is nothing more moving to a Soldier than an afternoon of placing a few hundred flags in the soft cemetery grass for some of America's bravest heroes.
"I consider this a real honor to be here. It's the least we can do to honor the sacrifices of all these people," said Whaley, firing party commander, Charlie Company, 3d U.S. Inf. Reg. (The Old Guard). "When you look around at all the flags, it is a reminder of the price of freedom. It's very surreal to me every time we come out here and do this."
Whaley, and an entire Regiment of Soldiers, removed flags from their rucksacks and, one by one and row by row, placed them in the ground, until the cemetery was draped with flags.
"Over the years, we have been getting better at placing these flags. Sometimes they brake or are crooked, so we have to replace them," said Whaley. "Everyone has their own technique, but I just put them in the ground with dignity and respect."
Even with more than 624 acres, it takes the unit just a few hours to cover ANC with flags that are placed a foot's length centered on every grave marker and headstone.
"This gives me a chance to show that extra respect for all the guys that came before us and the guys of today," said Whaley. "There are guys that have been buried here for a while that have amazing stories, and we wouldn't be here without them."
He added that he didn't know much about "flags-in" prior to being assigned to The Old Guard back in 2006, but had an understanding about the importance of honoring the military before he was even old enough.
Whaley, 24, joined the Army in a small town right after high school to pursue a dream shared by him and his now late grandfather, serving their country.
"I talked to him before he passed away in 2001, and he encouraged me to join the Army. He served in the Army for many years, and he is definitely a hero to me," said Whaley, the Garrison, N.D. native. "He wasn't buried in ANC, but I know his grave site in North Dakota will be honored this weekend."
As a commander of a seven three-round volleys firing squad, Whaley understands how important what they do is to the families of the fallen.
"That is why so much effort is put forth to honor those who gave their lives," he said. "When people see us or the flags, I hope it really puts things in prospective and makes things very real to them."
Although these small American flags were here for only a few days, the symbol that they represented will last for generations to come.
"Sometimes we just get caught up in what's going on today that we forget to remember our past," Whaley said. "This event just reiterates how many veterans we have out there in the cemetery and what they did for their country."

Page last updated Thu May 31st, 2012 at 16:29