FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, May 23, 2008) -- The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) began their rounds Thursday afternoon to place a small American flag into the ground in front of every grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Old Guard became the Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948 and on that Memorial Day every available member of the regiment stood one foot in front of a grave marker at the cemetery, bent over and placed a flag. The Soldiers continued on their rounds around the cemetery until every marker and niche had a flag.

Today there are more than 280,000 graves and the Old Guard troops continue the practice each year at Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Cemetery.

Trucks full of wooden crates containing tens of thousands of flags arrived at the Selfridge Gate, Fort Myer, around 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The Soldiers took turns filling their rucksacks with bundles of old glory.

The veteran troops yearn for wet ground. It can be tough on the hands pushing a sharpened stake into the hard ground repeatedly. Most wear gloves, but some smart Soldiers use a plastic bottle cap in their palms to prevent wear and tear on the hands.

A couple of officers had small pieces of wood with indentations to save their hands.

About 50 Marines from their barracks at 8th showed up to participate. Marine 1st Lt. Brian Wilson participated in the event for the first time. Contingents from all the services help with "Flags-In."

"It's an opportunity to pay respects to the Marines and other servicemen and women in the cemetery," he said.

Master Sgt. Steven Colbert brought along his son, Jordan, 8, for the first time.

"This is one of the best tributes we can do for our fallen comrades," he said. "Our world is changing. Kids need to know what it means to be an American. We do a lot together -- softball, fishing. This is one more thing we can share."

Pvt. Joel Castillo looked forward to doing something for his predecessors.

"It's a good thing to do, so we'll remember why we're at this duty station," he said. "I'm able to be in the Army because they were in the Army. If they hadn't done what they did, I might not have been allowed to be in the Army."

First Sergeant Richard Thomas has participated in "Flags-In" for 10 years.

"It's an honor and a privilege to do this," he said. "Other forces outside the National Capital Region don't get the opportunity to do this. The troops, especially the first timers, look forward to it."

Capt. Justin Michel recently returned from duty in Iraq with the 101st Airborne.

"This is brand new for me," he said. "It's a great opportunity. It's an honor and a privilege to place an American flag on a servicemen's interment site.

"I can't think of any place I'd rather be."

(Dennis Ryan is a staff writer for the Pentagram)

Page last updated Fri May 23rd, 2008 at 09:49