ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — On Memorial Day - Monday, May 27 this year - Americans remember those in the military who died while serving their country. Ahead of that day, soldiers place American flags in front of the more than 360,000 gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington.
Army Colonel James Markert placed a flag at the tombstone of Christopher Henderson, who was killed in Afghanistan almost six years ago. Henderson’s widow, Jennifer, and their daughter came to the cemetery as they have every year since he died.
“Being here with him, it’s a closer connection and it’s a way to honor what he did,” explained Jennifer Henderson.
The 3rd US infantry, known as the Old Guard, is a ceremonial unit. It has been placing flags at the graves for about 60 years. Colonel Markert is the commander.
“It's a way of sustaining that promise to our service members that if something should happen to them, we’ll make sure their families in there are taken care of and remembered,” said Markert.
This family is visiting the gravesite of William Beardsley, who also died in Iraq and would have been 32 years old today. His mother, Diana, said they leave messages when they visit.
“Especially the kids, filling him in where they’re at in their lives, and what’s happened over the last year, and we read them here at the gravesite,” said Diana Beardsley.
It takes 1,300 soldiers about three hours to place a flag at each grave, some of which date back to 1864 and the American Civil War. Some of the gravestones indicate that service members fought in multiple wars.
This is the first time Sergeant Ricardo Rodriguez has taken part in the Flags-In ceremony.
“I feel very privileged to be out here and render our honors to our fallen comrades,” said Rodriguez.
The soldiers carry dozens of flags in their backpacks. They place one about 30 centimeters in front of each headstone, using a shoe to help measure the distance.
Sergeant Ann Ogonowski is a fifth generation soldier. "It’s a pride and honor. This is the finest thing, I believe, that you can do honorably as a soldier in this unit.”
Specialist Taylor Davis, who has taken part for several years, is awestruck by the size of the cemetery.
“The sheer number of men and women who are buried there and the feeling of inspiration. It’s really a very unique feeling,” said Taylor.
And for those whose loved ones are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, it gives them a special feeling too.