Support our mission
 
Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
A soldier plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers plant flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Soldiers plant flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. Soldiers would place their boot against a gravestone and plant a flag at the heel to achieve a uniform look across the cemetery.
A soldier plants flags at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014 as part of a "Flags In" ceremony to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. Soldiers would place their boot against a gravestone and plant a flag at the heel to achieve a uniform look across the cemetery. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day.
Soldiers head out to plant flags at graves at a "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014, to honor fallen troops for Memorial Day. (C.J. Lin/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier carries a bag containing some of the more than 200,000 flags that were planted during the "Flags In" event at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014.
A soldier carries a bag containing some of the more than 200,000 flags that were planted during the "Flags In" event at Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2014. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers from the Old Guard march through Arlington National Cemetery as part of the "Flags In" event.
Soldiers from the Old Guard march through Arlington National Cemetery as part of the "Flags In" event. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier from the Old Guard carries flags on his back as he and others fanned out across Arlington National Cemetery. About 1,000 soldiers took part.
A soldier from the Old Guard carries flags on his back as he and others fanned out across Arlington National Cemetery. About 1,000 soldiers took part. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
“They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” said. Pvt. Juan Garcia. “We wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle that the entire country does if it wasn’t for the men and women we’re honoring today.
“They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” said. Pvt. Juan Garcia. “We wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle that the entire country does if it wasn’t for the men and women we’re honoring today. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
“It’s not something that should be taken lightly," said Pvt. Juan Garcia. "It’s an actual person that died. That’s someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s mom or dad.”
“It’s not something that should be taken lightly," said Pvt. Juan Garcia. "It’s an actual person that died. That’s someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s mom or dad.” (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
The event is known as the “Flags In” ceremony and has taken place annually since 1948, when the Old Guard was designated as the Army’s ceremonial unit.
The event is known as the “Flags In” ceremony and has taken place annually since 1948, when the Old Guard was designated as the Army’s ceremonial unit. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
Four flags were also placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Four flags were also placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
“It’s not just for barbecues, beaches, anything like that,” Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta said. “It’s to remember the soldiers that fell in the past.”
“It’s not just for barbecues, beaches, anything like that,” Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta said. “It’s to remember the soldiers that fell in the past.” (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
The ritual: Toe of the combat boot placed against the center of a headstone, flag planted at the heel.
The ritual: Toe of the combat boot placed against the center of a headstone, flag planted at the heel. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
The soldiers fanned out across Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, repeating this process across the hallowed grounds of to the tune of 200,000 times.
The soldiers fanned out across Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, repeating this process across the hallowed grounds of to the tune of 200,000 times. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
“We wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle that the entire country does if it wasn’t for the men and women we’re honoring today," said Pvt. Juan Garcia.
“We wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle that the entire country does if it wasn’t for the men and women we’re honoring today," said Pvt. Juan Garcia. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
Flags shared space with artifacts and tributes left at the tombstones by family and friends.
Flags shared space with artifacts and tributes left at the tombstones by family and friends. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
“It’s not just for barbecues, beaches, anything like that,” Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta said. “It’s to remember the soldiers that fell in the past.”
“It’s not just for barbecues, beaches, anything like that,” Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta said. “It’s to remember the soldiers that fell in the past.” (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
It was a simple but powerful gesture: One thousand soldiers placing the toe of a combat boot against the center of a headstone, then planting a flag at the heel.
It was a simple but powerful gesture: One thousand soldiers placing the toe of a combat boot against the center of a headstone, then planting a flag at the heel. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)

ARLINGTON, Va. — It was a simple but meaningful process repeated on hallowed ground about 220,000 times on Thursday: Toe of the combat boot placed against the center of a headstone, flag planted at the heel.

With that small gesture, about 1,000 soldiers paid respects as they fanned out at Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day weekend, each pausing to stake an American flag into the soil of each grave to honor those buried there.

“They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” said Pvt. Juan Garcia. “We wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle that the entire country does if it wasn’t for the men and women we’re honoring today.

“It’s not something that should be taken lightly. It’s an actual person that died. That’s someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s mom or dad.”

The participating soldiers were all members of the Old Guard. The event is known as the “Flags In” ceremony and has taken place annually since 1948, when the Old Guard was designated as the Army’s ceremonial unit.

The soldiers also placed flags at the cemetery’s columbarium, which holds cremated remains. Four flags were also placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The flags will remain throughout the holiday weekend until Tuesday.

And despite the holiday usually being celebrated with cookouts, Staff Sgt. Francisco Armenta said he hoped that everyone would take a minute to remember those who have sacrificed their lives.

“It’s not just for barbecues, beaches, anything like that,” Armenta said. “It’s to remember the soldiers that fell in the past.”

lin.cj@stripes.com Twitter: @cjlinSS

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up