Federal officials did an about-face, reversing an earlier decision to cancel a Veterans Day flag placement ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery, which will now go forward under specified conditions, organizers confirmed Wednesday.
“The administrative staff at Riverside National Cemetery … did not give up the fight and continued discussions with top Veterans Administration administrators to come up with a solution of how to honor every veteran buried at Riverside National Cemetery,” Brennan Leininger with Garden Grove-based Honoring Our Fallen said. “I am happy to report that through their hard work and dedication to serving the community, they have been able to agree on a way to continue with our `A Flag for Every Hero’ program while following current guidelines.”
Over the weekend, Leininger had distributed an email saying the Nov. 11 placement ceremony had been abrogated due to the VA’s rules limiting crowds at national cemeteries, impacting the flag walks.
However, even after the message was sent, Riverside National Cemetery Director Craig Arsell and Assistant Director Oliver Villalobos were continuing to negotiate with their bosses in the VA to hatch a compromise, according to Leininger.
The Veterans Day flag placements were also canceled last November because of the coronavirus public health lockdowns. But the placements were permitted this past Memorial Day weekend, when several hundred volunteers canvassed the cemetery, planting miniature American flags adjacent to roughly 280,000 grave sites.
Leininger said the compromise reached between cemetery staff and VA administrators for Nov. 11 requires that volunteers limit their platoon size to 50 people per section.
“We will not be assigning specific sections to volunteers; however, with more than 70 sections throughout the grounds, we should be able to accomplish this,” he said.
Further details on rendezvous points within the cemetery and deployments will be provided in the week prior to the flag walk.
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 efforts 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 the nonprofit Honoring Our Fallen.
Eventually, Leininger’s group joined with Riverside resident Mary Ellen Gruendyke to ensure all graves receive 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 nation.