Who places the flags at Arlington National Cemetery gravesites for Memorial Day?

Across the country this weekend, packs, troops, crews and ships will take part in a solemn Memorial Day tradition: placing flags at the graves of men and women who died serving our country.

If your Scout unit will be a part of this patriotic ritual, read this list of tips from my colleague Michael Freeman before heading out.

Michael’s post got me wondering. I know Scouts are an essential part of placing flags at local and national cemeteries, but who places all those flags at the hallowed Arlington National Cemetery?

The cemetery has more than 228,000 headstones, and each gets an American flag prior to Memorial Day weekend. Who does all that grueling, but important, work?

Sheldon Coffelt (back to camera) participated in the 2014 “Flags In” ceremony.

‘The Old Guard’

I got the answer from Bob Coffelt, a Class of 1977 Eagle Scout from Indiana.

He said it’s the responsibility of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — “The Old Guard.” These men and women, best known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, place every flag in a period of about four hours, Coffelt says.

When you add in 7,000 flags at the bottom of the columbarium’s niche rows, that means they place 235,000 flags at a rate of 58,750 flags per hour.

How does Coffelt know so much about this practice? His son, also an Eagle Scout, is a member of The Old Guard.

Sheldon Coffelt (right side, back) folded the American flag during a military burial.

Eagle Scout and soldier

Army Spc. Sheldon Coffelt was selected to join this elite team during basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

To be selected, a person must meet height and weight requirements, pass an aptitude test, and receive presidential clearance. Of course, being an Eagle Scout helps.

Sheldon Coffelt received Scouting’s highest honor on Dec. 27, 2007, as a member of Troop 730 of Warsaw, Ind., part of the Anthony Wayne Area Council.

During his time at Fort Myer, Va., he has been a member of the rifle team, carried caskets for fallen soldiers, assisted families in the chapel, participated in numerous wreath-laying ceremonies, performed special missions (sometimes at the Pentagon) and marched in the presidential inauguration parade.

This week, for the fifth time in his military career, Sheldon Coffelt will join his fellow Old Guard soldiers in the ceremony, known as “Flags In.” The soldiers will place small American flags at each headstone and at the bottom of each niche row in the cemetery’s Columbarium Courts.

All flags are removed after Memorial Day, before each cemetery opens to the public.