Thousands of flags to fill Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day

This Thursday members of the Army's ceremonial unit known as the 'Old Guard' will place an American flag on each of the 260,000 gravestones and 7,300 niches in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/file
A soldier paused on May 22, 2014 after putting flags at graves in Arlington National Cemetery.

On Thursday morning, the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, will place American flags on the gravestones and niches of hundreds of thousands of service members laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery and in Washington, D.C.'s United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery.

There are more than 260,000 gravestones in Arlington, as well as about 7,300 niches for cremated remains, according to the Associated Press. Gravesites include those for distinguished veterans, military doctors, prominent explorers and astronauts, minority figures, US presidents, and Supreme Court justices, among many others. 

The annual "Flags In" project takes place just before the Memorial Day weekend. 

According to their mission statement, the Old Guard "conducts memorial affairs to honor our fallen comrades, and ceremonies and special events to represent the Army, communicating its story to our Nation's citizens and the world."

The "Flags In" project has been part of the Old Guard's mission since it became part of the Army's designated ceremonial unit in 1948, according to the cemetery's website

Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery have a long history, since just after the Civil War, in 1868. Presidents, vice presidents, and foreign dignitaries have addressed tens of thousands at wreath-laying ceremonies at the cemetery.

"My daughter was one of the soldiers who did this," commented a proud mother on the Old Guard's Facebook page. The picture from 2014 was of a soldier in his army fatigues with hundreds of brightly colored American flags poking out of his backpack.  

The tradition continues this year as the Old Guard prepares to honor 150 years of military service. 

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