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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...

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Old Guard Continues Memorial Day Tradition of Placing Flags at Arlington National Cemetery

By Kevin M. Hymel on 5/24/2024

Memorial Day weekend starts early at Arlington National Cemetery. At dawn on the Thursday morning prior to Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (the Army’s official ceremonial unit, also known as The Old Guard) lead this revered tradition known as “Flags In.”

On May 23, 2024, Old Guard soldiers, with their rucksacks filled with American flags, spread out through the cemetery and methodically placed a booted toe against each headstone and columbarium niche. They then pressed a flag into the ground at their heel.

For many Old Guard soldiers, placing the flags offered a meaningful way to remember family and friends. Cpt. Marcus Craig, for example, said that he was placing flags in honor of his wife’s uncle, a retired Navy senior chief who is buried at ANC. Because his wife could not attend the event, he stated that he participated in Flags In “as a tribute to family and service members.” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Katherine Floyd, who comes from a military family, considers placing flags an honor. “It runs in our family to pay our respects,” she said.

Capt. Douglas Taylor placed a flag at his great-uncle’s headstone in Section 60. His great-uncle, a Japanese American, served during World War II in the Army’s 100th Battalion, a racially segregated, highly decorated unit composed primarily of Japanese Americans. After placing the flag, Taylor photographed the headstone, noting that he would text it to his uncle “to say ‘Hey Uncle David, your dad’s grave is taken care of for the weekend.’”

For Taylor, seeing families spending entire days at their loved one’s graves over the Memorial Day weekend reminds him why he volunteers to place flags. “It’s important to know that we’re getting the cemetery ready to help them with healing and the closure process,” he emphasized.

First Sgt. Corey Perriman, who lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been placing flags in the cemetery for the last three years. Reading the names, service branches and wars on headstones gives him “goose bumps,” he said, as he reads “about those who paved the way for us to be here.” Sgt. Griffin Lynch, an Army recruiter in Annapolis and an Iraq War veteran who joined the Old Guard in placing flags, also has friends buried at ANC. “They’re the main reason to keep serving and keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Pvt. Justin Penn stated that he places flags on behalf of the families who are unable to visit the cemetery during Memorial Day weekend. “We take the initiative, pay our respects and show our honors,” he explained.

Spc. Vincent Zaccheo summed up the meaning of Flags In for many service members: “It’s a big Army,” he said, “and I’m one of the people who gets to honor the past service members. I’m sure a lot of people wish they could be doing this right now.”