Flags-In Ceremony Sets the Stage For Memorial Day at Arlington

Staff Sgt. Oliver Moore visits the grave of Sgt. 1st Class James Scott Ochsner during the Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Thursday, May 21, 2015. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. Oliver Moore visits the grave of Sgt. 1st Class James Scott Ochsner during the Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Thursday, May 21, 2015. (Meredith Tibbetts/Stars and Stripes)

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the emotion of the day caught up with Staff Sgt. Oliver Moore.

He had just placed silver airborne wings on the grave of his best friend, Staff Sgt. Kevin Michael Witte, in memory of the times they had gone skydiving together. Witte, 27, died in an improvised explosive device attack in Baghdad in 2006.

"With all the BS we put up with, we get one day a year where it puts everything in perspective. This is our generation," Moore said, gesturing to the section where many of the casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.

Moore and more than 1,000 other servicemembers were taking part in Thursday's pre-Memorial Day Flags-In ceremony, conducted at Arlington every year since 1948 by the Old Guard. American flags -- more than 228,000 of them -- lined every headstone, their red, white and blue contrasting with the white marble.

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"This section (60) is tough," said Moore, who also visited the grave of Sgt. 1st Class James Scott Ochsner, killed in Afghanistan in 2005.

"It's too crowded on Memorial Day," Moore added. "It's just soldiers here today."

In a different part of Section 60, at the grave of Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., another soldier saluted sharply: His son, Spc. Nicholas Connell, who placed the American flag at the base of the headstone.

"I know in my heart, as much as it means to me, the honor and sacrifice that everybody in here has given to us," Connell said. "If people could see us giving that same respect, they would want to do the same."

James Connell was killed in 2007 in Iraq; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya and Pfc. Christopher E. Murphy died in the same attack.

"My dad was an all-American, he was 100 percent a patriot," Connell said. "For me, he was more of a best friend. He was my football, basketball, baseball coach. We traveled so much as an Army brat, moved from place to place; that was my one buddy to go to talk to when something is bothering you.

"He was definitely a family man. I know he loved his family more than anything."

His father, Connell said, is the reason he enlisted.

"Memorial Day is for us to come out here and honor the people who fought and have fallen for our country," Connell said. "Give them the respect they deserve, and the loyalty they deserve."

Old Guard soldiers also placed flags at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington.

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