A ceremony to place miniature American flags at every grave on the grounds of Riverside National Cemetery for Veterans Day will not be permitted again this year because of federal public health restrictions.
“I was notified that we cannot fulfill our commitment to putting flags at Riverside National Cemetery due to restrictions still being in place for holding events,” Brennan Leininger with the Garden Grove-based nonprofit Honoring Our Fallen said in an email. “I know this brings frustration to some, but know it is beyond our control. This decision comes from higher levels within the Veterans Administration, and not at the local level.”
While interment services at Riverside National Cemetery are continuing without interruption, larger events, like the flag walks organized by Leininger and others, are not.
The Veterans Day flag placements were also canceled last November because of the coronavirus public health lockdowns.
However, the placements were permitted this past Memorial Day weekend, when several hundred volunteers canvassed the cemetery, planting flags adjacent to more than 200,000 grave sites.
“I can assure you that canceling any event or program at the cemetery is not what any of us want,” Leininger said. “The cemetery operations are regulated by the VA, and the guidelines and directions implemented from them must be followed.”
The walks were first organized in 2012 and typically involve a variety of organizations, including the Boy Scouts, police Explorers, Civil Air Patrol cadets and even union workers and their relatives.
When the walks began, volunteers were able to reach only 21,000 grave sites. In 2014, organizers were able to procure enough flags and enlist a sufficient number of people to plant the Stars and Stripes next to just about all of the final resting places of individuals interred at the cemetery.
Since then, the number of volunteers has grown significantly, and the walks are completed in less than four hours, according to Leininger.
The honorably discharged U.S. Air Force serviceman and Anaheim police officer visited the cemetery in 2011 and was dismayed by how few flags were flying, prompting him to start the placements, with the help of Honoring Our Fallen.
Eventually, Leininger’s group joined with Riverside resident Mary Ellen Gruendyke, now in her late 70s, to ensure all graves receive a flag. Gruendyke had contributed money and time to the effort long before 2012.
The 900-acre national cemetery is the third-largest of its kind in the nation.