Flags for Fallen Vets has a Memorial Day mission

Phil Briggs
May 23, 2019 - 1:56 pm

Gardner/Briggs Illustration

As the sun rises over the manicured grounds of a military cemetery, the only sounds are the wind and the birds.  The rows of white headstones form clean lines across the green grass and it’s as if Mother Nature herself, was paying final respects to the fallen.


But each Memorial Day, the silence is broken for a few hours, as thousands of volunteers from Flags for Fallen Vets walk the cemetery grounds, placing small American flags on every grave.

Flags for Fallen Vets, Founder, Bob Fussner explains that honoring service members on Memorial Day is in his blood, "My dad was a Marine in the Pacific in World War II, and my grandad was a Marine in France in World War I."  Fussner, a third generation Marine veteran, explained how it all began, "With my family history, I grew up going to national cemeteries...and I was always disappointed that I didn't see many flags."

So after years of disappointment, he decided to do something about it. He called the Director of the Dallas National Cemetery, and learned what he needed to do to begin placing flags on grave sites.  Many hours, and 30 days later, he had everything he needed to start. "So, I thought, if it will work here in the Dallas Fort Worth area, I wonder how many other cemeteries need flags." 

Today Flags for Fallen Vets has grown into a 501c3 non-profit organization serving several states including; Texas, Florida, Colorado and South Dakota.   

According to Doug Gardner, Flags For Fallen Vets, Volunteer Director, the Florida team has grown significantly, "The word really got out in our community. So much, that we had traffic jams along I-75, with hundreds of volunteers trying to get into the cemetery.” They now cover cemeteries all over Florida, including Florida National, Sarasota, South Florida and Cape Canaveral National Cemeteries.

In total this year, Fussner said, "We will place half a million flags and have over 13,000 volunteers."


“It's especially nice to have volunteers of all ages. And it's always emotional to see a child placing a flag," Gardner said.

Gardner, a resident of The Villages, a retirement community about 40 minutes north of Orlando community recalled how he first got involved, “Our community has a huge veteran population. So, about four years ago,  I joined a neighborhood group that had volunteered to place Flags at Florida National Cemetery. It was such a heartwarming and rewarding experience, that the next year my wife and I decided that’s where we’ll be buried.”

“It’s an incredible sight each year,” said Gardner. “You get there and see the cemetery empty, and within an hour, there are thousands of flags, every direction you look.”  


 As a Vietnam Veteran, Gardner knows firsthand, the true meaning of this weekend.  He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as an engineering officer and saw the costs of war. “I don’t dwell on it, but I always remember that freedom is not free.”  

And as everyone prepares for a long weekend Fussner reminds us to "just take a moment on Monday and say thanks to the veterans that are no longer with us, because there was a price paid for the freedom we all enjoy." 


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