USA — Old Guard Soldiers Put ‘Flags In’ at Arlington Cemetery

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2010 — More than 1,500 ser­vice­mem­bers from the “Old Guard” and oth­er cer­e­mo­ni­al units gath­ered at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery today for a sacred rit­u­al mark­ing the start of the Memo­r­i­al Day week­end obser­vance.

The men and women, rep­re­sent­ing all the ser­vices and Coast Guard, car­ried ruck­sacks full of small Amer­i­can flags, per­form­ing the time-hon­ored Flags In event of mark­ing the cemetery’s more than 350,000 white head­stones with the stars and stripes.

“This is one of the many dis­tinct hon­ors entrust­ed to the Old Guard,” Army Maj. Rosy Pou­los, 3rd Infantry pub­lic affairs offi­cer, said. “They’re out here until every flag is placed, whether that’s 6:30 or 9:30 [p.m.]”

Sgt. Patrick Smith, from the Old Guard’s B Com­pa­ny, has placed flags in the ceme­tery for the past three years. Though the work is repet­i­tive, he said, he con­sid­ers it an hon­or. “It’s a good way to hon­or the fall­en, the ones who gave so many years of their lives, or their life itself, to the ser­vice of our coun­try,” he said.

Smith said once he starts to see the head­stones, and reads as he places each flag, a feel­ing of respect and rev­er­ence takes over.

“Once you start walk­ing, and you see the head­stones, there’s a cer­tain con­nec­tion, sort of an esprit de corps,” Smith said. “You see them and you get a feel­ing for how many have giv­en their lives. It does­n’t mat­ter what rank they held or what ser­vice they were a part of, each are treat­ed as hon­or­ably as the oth­er, they each get a flag.”

Staff Sgt. Rob Woodring placed flags for the first time today. At first he was­n’t sure what to expect, beyond the task itself. But he said it’s impos­si­ble not to feel a con­nec­tion when sur­round­ed by gen­er­a­tions of ser­vice­mem­bers.

“These peo­ple all gave their lives to the mil­i­tary, and to our coun­try, whether they’re here because they ded­i­cat­ed their lives to ser­vice or gave their lives in ser­vice,” he said. Flags-in has been per­formed annu­al­ly since 1948 when the Old Guard was named the Army’s offi­cial cer­e­mo­ni­al unit. The Old Guard includes the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Sol­dier, the Con­ti­nen­tal Col­or Guard and all Army funer­als at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. The flags will be removed ear­ly June 1 before the ceme­tery opens.

Each flag is cen­tered pre­cise­ly one foot in front of the head­stone. Many sol­diers use gloves equipped with wood, plas­tic, or met­al plates to pro­tect their hands as they place, on aver­age, more than 230 flags each. Though some said they’d like a cool­er day, none com­plained about the task itself.

“We’re part of some­thing spe­cial,” Mas­ter Sgt. Kris­tine Zielin­s­ki said. “We get to hon­or our com­rades.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)