Troops place 230,000 flags at Arlington National Cemetery

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ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. -- Soldiers placed nearly a quarter-million U.S. flags at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday as part of a Memorial Day tradition. The event is known as "flags in."

More than 230,000 marble headstones line the landscape of the cemetery across 624 acres.

"To see everyone before that's gone you that's gone, fight and died it kind of makes you real proud, you know," U.S. Army PFC Alexander Heintz said.

In preparation for Memorial Day weekend, 1,000 soldiers deployed in different directions, still marching in unison.

"Each soldier's got about 300 to 400 flags and they're ready to go," Army Capt. Jonathan Cohen said.

Many of the young soldiers were experiencing the "flags in" tradition for the first time. A number of them are newly enlisted.

"It's a very honorable day. I'm almost teary eyed," Army PFC Maleaha Eyer said.

It's hard work and yet the soldiers call it a blessing.

"When you go to each one individually, look at each service member's name, what medals they've earned, what wars they've fought in, you get a good sense of perspective," Army SPC Justin Vinge said. "Service and sacrifice given by each one of these brave men and women."

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of visitors are expected to pass through the cemetery to pay their respects to loved ones, including parents, siblings, spouses, children and comrades. They will find row after row, section after section, each flag precisely placed.

"You put your boot up to the grave stone so each row is the exact same length away," Heintz said.

What's striking, the soldiers said, is that no matter their branch or rank, each of these service members made the same sacrifice and all of them are honored the same way.

"Even from the basic private to the highest colonels and generals, most of these tombstones are the same," Vinge said.

It took about four hours to complete the mission, occasionally interrupted by the faint sound of a bugle in the distance, playing "Taps."

And everyone stops and salutes.


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