Flags across America

Coast Guard recruits spread out across Arlington National Cemetery as part of Flags Across America. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard recruits spread out across Arlington National Cemetery as part of Flags Across America. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Patrick Kelley.

As the sun rose over Arlington National Cemetery, a group of Coast Guard members and their families gathered. With steam rising from their coffee cups, they set out amongst the cemetery’s autumn leaves to perform the most humbling of acts – to honor generations of Americans who defended freedom.

From sea cadet to retired Coast Guardsmen, the diverse participants assembled at the cemetery to pay their respects as part of Flags Across America. The event is stripped-down from pomp and circumstance and is a simple tribute of Americans showing their gratitude.

A mother and daughter participate during this year's Flags Across America, a tribute to fallen veterans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

A mother and daughter participate during this year's Flags Across America, a tribute to fallen veterans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“It’s blue jeans and warm clothing,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Jon Ostrowski, president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association. “It’s a great low-key opportunity for families to just come and learn something about veterans.”

But what the event lacks in flourishes, it most certainly makes up for in honor and reverence as servicemembers and their families visit veterans’ graves.

Sparked Veterans Day 1999 by retired Chief Warrant Officer Ed Kruska, the event continues to grow. For the first time, recruits from Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., were invited to attend the event.

Recruits from Sierra 185 and Tango 185 piled out of buses, taking in the crisp fall air. It was their first time off base since the start of basic training, but the fact they spent their liberty hours honoring servicemembers was an opportunity they embraced.

“You might think we would be disappointed because we weren’t going to get leave or liberty, but the more we thought about it, and now that we are actually here, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Seaman Recruit Robert Haas. “We are the first ones to actually get to do this, and it is such a privilege.”

“We are here representing the Coast Guard and to show these veterans we remember,” added Seaman Recruit Gillis Weaver. “I am proud we are the ones to be here and honor these veterans.”

As participants dispersed to place Coast Guard standards and national ensigns at each grave, recruits stayed behind and marched towards the USS Serpens Monument. The monument commemorates the largest single disaster suffered by the Coast Guard in World War II.

Recruits circled around the monument with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt, reflecting on the granite inscription.

The monument is especially meaningful for Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve Force Mark Allen. Of the 193 Coast Guardsmen who perished in the explosion, 176 were reservists.

A Coast Guard recruit places the national ensign at a veteran's grave. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

A Coast Guard recruit places the national ensign at a veteran's grave. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“I really wanted the recruits to have a quiet moment of reflection at the monument,” said Allen. “I wanted them to assimilate a sense of their sacrifice and the tie they have in the long blue line.”

Spouses, children and neighbors spread out across the cemetery to pay their respects. But Allen hopes that his actions, and those of the Chief Petty Officers Association, will inspire others to show appreciation of those who have served and are currently serving. He urges others to seek opportunities to learn more about veterans’ history and to visit a local cemetery.

“It makes it more real than reading it in a book,” says Allen. “When you visit a historical place, take what you learn in your heart. Take it with you to remember those who have contributed so much.”

Day breaks at Arlington National Cemetery as volunteers prepare to pay tribute to veterans' graves. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Day breaks at Arlington National Cemetery as volunteers prepare to pay tribute to veterans' graves. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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  • AMTCS Peter G. MacDougall

    I have had the privilege of walking the grounds of Arlington on many occassions, several times in the rare company of Shipmates such as Master Chief Allen. The “Flags Across America” is a wonderful way in which to honor our nations heroes. And to include our newest Shipmates this year from Cape May? What a terrific idea!
    For those of you who have never experienced the serenity and majesty of walking the Hallowed Grounds of Arlington National Cemetary, make sure to put it very high on your “must do” CG/Lifetime priority list. You’ll find a reverance in your heart that you may have never known was there.
    A very special Thank You to all the Flags Across America participants!
    Enlisted Ancient Albatross sends

  • Jean Allen

    Thank you for posting this site. I had no idea there was such a program as Flags Across America. My husband is a retired Coast Guard W-4. He retired with 28 years which included a 10 month period in Viet Nam on the CGC Minnetonka out of Long Beach, CA.
    He now has Alzheimers disease at age 75. Our son, daughter and I are so thankful for the Coast Guard and their service to our country.

  • Sandra Rice

    My son is a member of Sierra 185-we are so proud and honored that he got to take part in this. What a wonderful opportunity!

  • R. Strong

    My Grandparents, Bruce M. and Alice R. Strong, are buried at Arlington. Their graves are just down the hill from President Kennedy’s. I wanted to tell you a little about two of those you honor with your flags (we are greatful for your actions). My grandfather was a calveryman serving under Gen. John J. Pershing. First in Ft. Bliss Texas in search of Pancho Villa in excursions across the U.S./Mexican border (1916-17) and then in France during WWI. An expert horseman, while in Paris my grandfather was asked by the General if he would teach his young son Warren how to ride, which he did. My grandfather was honored and though he was an enlisted man (SGT.) the Gen. considered him as a friend. Though he never spoke much of it he served at the front during the war and was recovering in Paris when the armistice was signed. After the war my grandfather was teaching horsemanship at VMI when the Gen., who upon learning where my grandfather was, asked him to oversee his stable while the Gen. was stationed in Washington serving as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.

    Some time after my grandfather left the Army he became a Metropolitan Police officer in Wash. DC. While serving at the White House (honor gaurd) he met my grandmother Alice, who was a White House chef (she called herself a cook though she was Cordon Blue trained). They married, settled in Washington, and had 6 children. One died at birth and one (CoCo) died when she was three. My dad Raymond V. Strong was the baby of the family. His two older brothers Bruce and Derwood were in the Navy and served in the Pacific during WWII, and my father joined the Naval Reserves after the war.
    My grandfather was invited to serve as an Honorary pallbearer when Gen. Pershing died, but my grandmother would not let him go as he was recovering from a heart attack at the time and she thought it would be too much for him. Grandpa died in 1952 at the age of 62 and Grandma followed him, in 1972 at the age of 76. There dedication to service lives on. Two of their great grandchildren have 7 deployments to the middle east between them and a third is getting ready to start Navy Seal training.
    I am proud to have them as my grand parents and honored that they are buried on such hollowed ground.

  • R. Strong

    My Grandparents, Bruce M. and Alice R. Strong, are buried at Arlington. Their graves are just down the hill from President Kennedy’s. I wanted to tell you a little about two of those you honor with your flags (we are grateful for your actions). My grandfather was a cavalryman serving under Gen. John J. Pershing. First in Ft. Bliss Texas in search of Poncho Villa in excursions across the U.S./Mexican border (1916-17) and then in France during WWI. An expert horseman, while in Paris my grandfather was asked by the General if he would teach his young son Warren how to ride, which he did. My grandfather was honored and though he was an enlisted man (SGT.) the Gen. considered him as a friend. Though he never spoke much of it he served at the front during the war and was recovering in Paris when the armistice was signed. After the war my grandfather was teaching horsemanship at VMI when the Gen., who upon learning where my grandfather was, asked him to oversee his stable while the Gen. was stationed in Washington serving as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.

    Sometime after my grandfather left the Army he became a Metropolitan Police officer in Wash. DC. While serving at the White House (honor guard) he met my grandmother Alice, who was a White House chef (she called herself a cook though she was Cordon Blue trained). They married, settled in Washington, and had 6 children. One died at birth and one (Coco) died when she was three. My dad Raymond V. Strong was the baby of the family. His two older brothers Bruce and Derwood were in the Navy and served in the Pacific during WWII, and my father joined the Naval Reserves after the war.
    My grandfather was invited to serve as an honorary pallbearer when Gen. Pershing died, but my grandmother would not let him go as he was recovering from a heart attack at the time and she thought it would be too much for him. Grandpa died in 1952 at the age of 62 and Grandma followed him, in 1972 at the age of 76. Their dedication to service lives on. Two of their great grandchildren have 7 deployments to the Middle East between them and a third is getting ready to start Navy Seal training.
    I am proud to have them as my grandparents and honored that they are buried on such hallowed ground.

  • D.Wilbert, GMCS

    -no greater a man than one willing to give his own life for another.

    Well done Shipmates! Never lose track of those who have gone before you nor lose track of the Honors and Traditions that brought us where we are.

  • OS3 R. Uhlir

    I wish I could see the Florida National Cemetary, I like walking the grounds and wondering who the person beneath the stone was. Welcome to the family Sierra and Tango!