VIRGINIA BEACH — Each year in the days leading up to the last Monday in May, flags appear on the graves of veterans in cemeteries across the nation.
More often than not, the flags are placed by volunteers from service organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars posts (VFW) or American Legion Posts.
In Virginia Beach, VFW Post 392 will be among those putting out the flags.
TJ Dechamplain, senior vice commander of Post 392, said they placed some 700 flags on Saturday. Volunteers sign up in the days leading up to Memorial Day, and the Post also got help from a Girl Scout Troop and some members of a Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The tradition of placing flags on the graves of veterans began in communities across the United States after the Civil War ended in 1865.
Each community did it on a day of their own choosing. In 1868 the northern states began a tradition of holding the event on May 30, but in the south communities continued to honor their dead on separate days. It wasn’t until after World War I that southern states also began to hold their observances on May 30.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
Dechamplain said she has been a member of Post 392 for 12 years and thinks the post has been placing flags for at least 30.
In 1968 Congress passed legislation making the last Monday in May the official observance of Memorial Day, and on May 30, 1971 the first national Memorial Day was observed.
Post 392 places flags on graves in five cemeteries across the city: Colonial Grove, Jones Cemetery, Rosewood Cemetery, Eastern Shore Cemetery, and Princess Anne Cemetery.
Because they buy the flags themselves, the VFW will be back at the cemeteries in the days following Memorial Day to gather them back up.
Arlington National Cemetery is home to perhaps the best-known tradition, “Flag-In.”
Beginning nearly 70 years ago after World War II it became an annual event for the 1,000 soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment – or the Old Guard – to place 280,000 flags, one on each veteran’s grave.
On Tuesday morning, before the cemetery opens back up to the public, the soldiers go back out and collect all of the flags.