Flags-In — How the Old Guard Observes Memorial Day
The Important Tradition of Flags-In
Each year, on the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, a battalion of the United States Army 3rd Infantry Regiment meticulously places American flags at each of more than 280,000 headstones in Arlington National Cemetery, another 14,000 flags at the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington D.C., and near each of the four crypts at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; all part of a tradition known as "Flags-In."
Old Guard, Old Roots
The 3rd Infantry Regiment was established in 1784, making it the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the United States Army. In 1948, the Old Guard (as this battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment is commonly known) was designated as the Army's official ceremonial unit.
Since then, the Old Guard has been called upon to handle the extremely important duties of maintaining the 24-hour vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, providing military funeral escorts, and conducting the annual Flags-In ceremony.
Honor in the Act of Homage
Each year on the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, every available soldier in the Old Guard starts early, filling their rucksacks with American Stick Flags. Once supplied, they fan out to their pre-assigned sections all over Arlington National Cemetery and begin to carefully place their flags.
Each flag is placed exactly one boot-length away from the center of the headstone's base. With pride and precision, the soldiers place every flag by hand. They each place so many flags that some cup their Old Guard coins in the palm of their hands to insulate against injury and calluses, and welcome any rain that might soften the ground beneath them.
Old Guard soldiers can often be found in solemn contemplation as they take in the names of their fallen compatriots and the gravity of the tribute. They will remain on watch from the Flags-In ceremony through Memorial Day to ensure that all of the flags stay intact and upright. Then, before the cemetery is reopened to the public, all of the flags will be recollected.
How Can We Participate in the Flags-In Tradition?
While members of the public are only allowed to watch the Flags-In ceremony take place at Arlington National Cemetery, many will actively make similar tributes in their home cemeteries or where soldiers are known to be interred. It is appropriate to place American stick flags before the headstones of veterans of the United States Armed Forces over the Memorial Day weekend.
Will You Share Your Memorial Day Tributes?
Send us your pictures of Flags-In activities, American flags, flagpoles, ropes, or other accessories! We would be honored to feature your photography in our blog or on Facebook. Remember, photos of damaged flags and accessories are valuable, too.
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Have a great day, from your friends at LIBERTY FLAGS, The American Wave®.