By Alex McVeighMay 21, 2009
Every Memorial Day since 1948, Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) have made their way through Fort Myer's Selfridge Gate, rucksacks filled with American flags.
This year was no exception as every available Soldier from The Old Guard, as well as from ceremonial units across each branch of the military, gathered at Arlington National Cemetery May 21, to place a flag in front of each one of the cemetery's more than 300,000 graves.
"Flags In," as it's known, kicks off the Memorial Day weekend for service members and visitors to ANC, beginning several days of reflecting on the sacrifices of the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country.
You couldn't ask for better weather, 85 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, and a light breeze blew to keep the air from becoming too muggy. Soldiers commented that it's been this way for the past few years, which makes their job that much easier.
Wooden crates packed with flags lined the roads of ANC, and service members refilled their backpacks until every grave had a flag one foot from it's base.
"It's a privilege to be out here, it's a very specific group that is allowed to do this," said Sgt. Andrew Jansen of The Old Guard's Headquarters Company. This is Jansen's fifth year participating.
The Marine Corps Barracks 8th and I, the Navy Ceremonial Guard, the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and members of the Coast Guard Honor Guard all participated as well, in a joint service tribute to heroes of generations past and present.
"It's an honor to do this for our fallen comrades," said Pvt. Zach Lawson, who wore a water bottle cap on his palm to make the insertion of flags easier, which some Soldiers do. "This is my first year doing this, and they told me what to expect, but it's something to actually be out here."
Several servicemembers even brought their families out to participate in the tradition. Small children could be occasionally seen carrying stacks of flags taller than themselves across a section, before handing it to a servicemember.
Like most Army missions, this one was coordinated by a noncommissioned officer, in this case, Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Plummer, noncommissioned officer in charge for The Old Guard's Regimental Memorial Affairs.
Plummer and his group of Soldiers set up shop near the Tomb of the Unknowns, coordinating with each and every unit, making sure every section was covered. They also coordinated refills of the wooden crates, so that flags could be placed wherever they were running out.
"We coordinated with the staff of Arlington National Cemetery to place the crates, and I gave a brief to Soldiers beforehand," Plummer said. "It's been a smooth transition this year, depending on missions, you never know how many other servicemembers can come out, but they always send as many as they can."
No one who rests at Arlington National Cemetery went unrecognized, as Old Guard Soldiers even placed a flag in front of each row at the Columbarium, where cremated remains are placed.
By the time the 6 o'clock bell rang, servicemembers had been at work for almost three hours, and almost every marker in the cemetery had a small flag a foot from the base. Soldiers used their feet to get an approximate distance.
Soldiers also took time to salute when laying a flag down at a Medal of Honor winner, such as the marker of Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade Dec. 4, 2006. McGinnis is interred in section 60 of ANC, alongside many of his fellow veterans from the Global War on Terror.
Soldiers from The Old Guard will stand watch at all times throughout the cemetery, guarding the flags through the Memorial Day weekend.