Flags Across America: Bringing Devotion to Duty to a New Generation

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Charlotte Fritts

141108-G-BN624-199Bright and early on a crisp November morning, active duty, reserve, and retired Coast Guardsmen and their families gathered atop Coast Guard Hill in Arlington National Cemetery to recognize what Chaplain of the Coast Guard Steven Barstow described as the “victory of lives well lived.”

This year’s Flags Across America event, organized by the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association, brought together nearly 100 volunteer participants on Nov. 8 to ensure the dozens of headstones of fallen Coast Guardsmen buried at Arlington Cemetery were properly recognized in advance of the upcoming Veteran’s Day holiday.

Following opening remarks by Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft and other distinguished guests, participants and their children lined up togather bundles of American and Coast Guard flags before parting ways to cover the grounds at Arlington Cemetery.

Flags Across America began sixteen years ago when Coast Guardsmen visited Arlington Cemetery and noticed how many grave markers of veterans from other branches of service were adorned with the flag of their respective service and took on the mission to ensure the Coast Guard was equally represented. As one of the founders of this event, retired Chief Warrant Officer Ed Kruska is pleased to see the growing enthusiasm for Flags Across America.

“What’s really gratifying is to see it’s still going, and it’s getting better than ever, year to year,” he said.

The Master of Ceremonies, retired Chief Warrant Officer Gloria East, readily noted an increase in the number of children participating in Flags Across America over previous years.

“We’re seeing a lot more kids, which is great,” said East. “These are young people we hope to see in following years. Some of these are kids of the ‘coasties’ who serve. They’re going to grow up, and maybe they’ll join the Coast Guard, maybe we’ll see them out here taking our place.”141108-G-BN624-119

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Steven Wolf leads Boy Scout Troop 1553 in Dale City, Va., and was pleased to take part in this year’s program.

“We said, ‘let’s get our troop out here to participate,’ and they came out in force. I think it’s a wonderful event,” said Wolf.

Zukunft drew attention to the number of Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in attendance, and said, “That’s what really moved me the most – to see the young kids out here today.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Garcia, a food service specialist from Springfield, Va., echoed the sentiment, seeing Flags Across America as, “a great opportunity to volunteer and give back to those who served before us.”

Attending with his wife Michelle and their daughters, Marisa, Ariana and Veronica, Garcia said he hoped his daughters, “will be able to gain a perspective of the importance of service in the Coast Guard and the magnificent history we have.”141108-G-BN624-040

This was not the first Flags Across America event Senior Chief Petty Officer Mary Cunningham attended, though it was the first time she brought her family, which included her husband Chuck and their 6-year-old twin sons Torry and Tavaris. Cunningham, who serves as the enlisted policy advisor in the office of diversity and inclusion, actively seeks ways to instill in her sons a commitment to service, taking them along to volunteer for local activities with programs like Meals on Wheels. However, with Cunningham slated to retire while Torry and Tavaris are still in elementary school, she hopes events like Flags Across America will help her boys gain a better understanding of her role as a service member.

“We will be here every year, even after retirement,” Cunningham said.