(WASHINGTON) — As Maj. Stephen Von Jett placed the American flag exactly 1 foot in front of his friend’s headstone, he took the time to reflect back on their friendship.
“I’ve dealt with the feelings about that loss for a long time,” said Von Jett, remembering his battle buddy Maj. Paul Carron who had died nine years ago in Afghanistan.
“I took a moment and I thought about our friendship and I placed a flag and I think that’s what a lot of Old Guard soldiers are doing today because we all have — many of us, many of us have people that we’ve lost throughout this time and coming together to honor those who have fallen means so much to us,” he added.
Thursday morning, ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Von Jett made his first stop at Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. That’s where most service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.
An annual tradition that has been repeated since 1948, “Flags In” is a time to remember and honor the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives for the nation.
Within just four hours, soldiers placed small American flags in front of more than 228,000 headstones and at the bottom of approximately 7,000 niche rows in Columbarium Courts and the Niche Wall.
Elsewhere in Arlington National Cemetery, Capt. Christopher Kittle stood in front of a headstone for his wife’s uncle. Chief Warrant Officer David Gibbs, who died in a helicopter accident in Bosnia in 1999.
“The feeling is very hard to describe,” he said. “You’re coming here and visiting a tombstone while recognizing the name — a name somebody that means a lot to my family, somebody who is very near and dear to our hearts.”
For Kittle, Memorial Day had been just another day to get together with his family for a cookout, until he became a part of the Old Guard — the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment which carries out “Flags In” each year at Arlington. Though he never personally met Gibbs, Kittle said it was a humbling experience.
“Being able to plant a flag personally … I just sat there and I was trying to understand the emotion I was feeling because I didn’t know him personally but I just felt very honored,” he said.
But this day wasn’t just for service members who experienced losing a direct family member or close friends, Von Jett reiterated. He believes that Memorial Day weekend and the “Flags In” tradition is a chance for all military members to reconnect with history, remember the legacy and to honor fallen heroes.
“And really, find out where our freedom came from and you know, place a flag and see what it costs.”
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