RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA – The call went out Monday for volunteers to help place miniature American flags alongside nearly 225,000 graves at Riverside National Cemetery next month as part of a Memorial Day tribute. Veterans.
“We are thrilled to come out and place flags to honor those buried in the cemetery,” said Brennan Leininger of Garden Grove-based Honoring Our Fallen.
The flag marches are scheduled to begin around 8 a.m. Nov. 5 at the Cemetery Amphitheater, where volunteers are needed to collect bundles of flags with which to walk the 70 sections of hallowed ground to plant the Stars & Stripes.
The effort should last three to four hours.
Last year, the Veterans Administration initially denied “A Flag for Every Hero” based on ongoing crowd restrictions in federally regulated spaces to limit exposure to the coronavirus. However, cemetery administrators persuaded their bosses to compromise and grant an exception because of the significance of the holiday, Leininger said.
The Memorial Day flag march in May went according to plan.
Walks have been canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 public health closures.
“Paying respects to those buried at Riverside National Cemetery is truly an honor that we should all be very proud of,” Leininger said.
This is an all-volunteer effort and hundreds of people are needed to carry out the mission, he said.
The recovery of the flags is scheduled for the morning of Saturday, November 12.
The marches were first held in 2012 and typically involve a variety of organizations including Boy Scouts, Police Explorers, Civil Air Patrol Cadets and even unionized workers and their relatives.
When they started, the volunteers were only able to reach 21,000 burial sites. In 2014, organizers were able to procure enough flags and recruit enough people to plant the Stars & Stripes next to almost all of the final resting places of those buried at the cemetery.
Since then, the number of volunteers has increased significantly, according to Leininger.
The honorably discharged U.S. Air Force serviceman and Anaheim police officer visited the cemetery in 2011 and was appalled at how few flags were flying, prompting him to begin placements, with the help from the non-profit organization Honoring Our Fallen.
Eventually, Leininger’s group joined with Riverside resident Mary Ellen Gruendyke to ensure that all graves received a flag. Gruendyke had contributed money and time to the effort long before 2012.
The 1,000-acre national cemetery is the third largest of its kind in the country.