by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks
“I have friends who died during my deployments to Iraq buried here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Joseph, infantryman, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) as he pointed to the other side of the cemetery. “And placing that American flag in front of their graves, and every grave here, shows that we have not forgotten their sacrifice.”
Joseph and more than 1,000 other Soldiers from The Old Guard participated in the annual Memorial Day tradition of “Flags-in” in Arlington National Cemetery [ANC], Va., May 22, 2014.
Since 1948, when The Old Guard was named the memorial and ceremonial unit for the U.S. Army, the unit has had the distinct honor of placing more than 400,000 flags at every tomb, gravesite and cremation niche in ANC every year.
Joseph didn’t know much about Flags-in prior to being assigned to The Old Guard, but after visiting the friends he lost during his four deployments in ANC; he developed a deep appreciation for this event.
“Enough can’t be said about what this unit does to honor our nation’s heroes,” said Joseph. “There is not one servicemember buried here that isn’t visited and honored, and to me that’s very special.”
Joseph added that being able to serve his country at The Old Guard has been one of the highlights of his career.
“I am proud to be associated with this unit that has such a unique mission,” said Joseph. “On one day we are performing at Twilight Tattoo, and then the next day we get to honor these service members. I will remember my time at here and what this unit means to the country for the rest of my life.”
For Soldiers who are part of The Old Guard but don’t have a memorial affairs mission, Joseph said Flags in is their chance to pay homage to the generations who fought for the freedoms of today in America on this large scale.
“As a member of the U.S. Army Drill Team, we travel all over the world telling the Army story through our performances, but there’s no greater joy than to just take time to honor those who paid the ultimate price,” said Joseph, the U.S. Army Drill Team platoon sergeant.
While it was his third year participating in Flags-In, Joseph said the event continues to be a monumental moment in his life.
“No matter how many times I have done Flags in, it never gets old,” said Joseph. “The feeling of pride and hope is something I know will never fade.”
Lines of Soldiers began walking through the final resting place of some of our nation’s greatest heroes. Slowly, but surely, the rows of tombs, gravesites and cremation niches had waving flags in front. Joseph and his Soldiers paused at every grave to read the name printed on the tomb.
“It’s a unique opportunity to stop for just a moment at each gravesite and reflect on the freedoms they died for,” said Joseph. “Laying a flag is very personal and solemn occasion for each Soldier out there.”
Joseph said one of the most humbling times over the past three years has been his opportunity to place a flag at the headstone of Sgt. Audie Murphy, the most decorated Soldier in U.S. Army history.
“What can I say other than he set the standard of how we need to be as Soldiers and leaders,” said Joseph. “As a member of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, I made it my mission to place a flag at Audie Murphy’s tomb each year.”
Even with the numerous amounts of Soldiers walking through the cemetery with ruck sacks filled with flags, the entire 624 acres took about six hours to cover.
Realizing that their mission was coming to a close, Joseph and his Soldiers went back through to ensure ever flag was centered and straight on the gravesite.
“It’s quite a sight, to see all the flags beautifully positioned in a row blowing in the wind,” said Joseph. “I hope people come out to see the all the flags this weekend, but when they do, I want them to walk away knowing that flags are a representation of what these fallen service members gave for our country, freedom.”