Honoring our veterans

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft looks out over Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags Across America event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft looks out over Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags Across America event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

In the hills and grassy flats of Arlington National Cemetery, Coast Guard flags and national ensigns flutter gently in the breeze at the graves of fallen shipmates.

Coast Guard men and women, their families, friends and former members placed the flags Saturday, during the Flags Across America event, an annual observance where volunteers come out to honor the fallen ahead of Veterans Day.

A lone bagpiper played Semper Paratus, the Honor Guard presented the colors, and a bugler played taps at the start of the ceremony atop Coast Guard Hill.

Flags Across America is an important occasion to pay tribute to those who have served and those who continue to serve around the world, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft said.

“There are lots of stories written on these hills because we all volunteer to serve,” he said. “What you see here today are those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The commandant thanked the nearly 100 volunteers for attending. The event was sponsored by the Washington chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association.

It is especially moving to see the children and families, the Commandant said, as they are the ones who are left behind when a member deploys. Coast Guardsmen are currently serving on five continents and will soon be on all seven, he said.

The volunteers, the admiral noted, came out for Flags Across America despite the gray skies and threat of rain, including members of Boy Scout Troop 149 who drove from York, Pennsylvania.

The weather is a reminder that Coast Guardsmen are always on duty, no matter what, he remarked.

“Thank you for paying tribute to those who serve and those who continue to serve,” Zukunft said.

At the Coast Guard's Flags Across America event, Coast Guard members, their families, friends and former members place Coast Guard flags and national ensigns on the graves of Coast Guardsmen ahead of Veterans Day. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa A. Ferdinando

At the Coast Guard’s Flags Across America event, Coast Guard members, their families, friends and former members place Coast Guard flags and national ensigns on the graves of Coast Guardsmen ahead of Veterans Day. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa A. Ferdinando

Lt. Cmdr. Pride Sanders said the occasion is a great opportunity to not only honor veterans, but also teach the next generation about the importance of honoring those who have served.

He brought with him five youngsters — two of his children, and three friends of his children.

“It’s always important for me to bring my children out to these type of remembrance ceremonies,” he said. “I think it’s just important to teach them early about veterans and their service to the country.”

One of the friends of his children, 12-year-old Ajani Witherspoon, said it was meaningful to honor veterans. His great-grandfather served in the Army in World War II, he said.

“Every time we do this, I think about him,” Witherspoon said.

A founder of Flags Across America, retired Chief Warrant Officer Ed Kruska, said the event is one of his favorite occasions of the year.

“When we first started in 1999, there were eight of us,” he said. “I’m still really honored to be part of this. It’s a fabulous Coast Guard day.”

After the program ended on Coast Guard Hill, the volunteers gathered their flags and fanned out around the cemetery, to fulfil their duty to honor the fallen members buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft and Coast Guard Ombudsman-at-Large Fran DeNinno-Zukunft honor the gravesite of Adm. Russell Waesche during the annual Flags Across America event Nov. 8, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft and Coast Guard Ombudsman-at-Large Fran DeNinno-Zukunft honor the gravesite of Adm. Russell Waesche during the annual Flags Across America event Nov. 8, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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