May 31, 2012
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."