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Apodaca: Flag project shows that 'no one is forgotten'

May 12, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Now that Mom's been served breakfast in bed or treated to a day at the spa, why not look ahead to the next occasion and plan for something more meaningful to do than flipping burgers on a backyard grill this coming Memorial Day weekend?

After all, the original intent of the holiday tends to get a bit lost these days, what with all the department store sales and the enticing whiff of summer on the way. Sometimes, a little perspective is in order.

Memorial Day was declared a national holiday in 1971, but it arose out of an array of observances of our nation's war dead that took place in various places around the country since the Civil War.

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Throughout much of that history, it was more commonly referred to as Decoration Day, reflecting the intention that the occasion be used to decorate veterans' grave sites as a show of gratitude and respect.

This year, a group of Orange County residents has taken that task to heart with its quest to plant as many flags as possible at Riverside National Cemetery. Carved out of March Air Force Base land back in the 1970s, the Riverside site is now the third largest and fastest-growing national cemetery, and is home to many monuments, memorials and the graves of several Medal of Honor recipients.

The flag project is the brainchild of Anaheim police officer Brennan Leininger, an Air Force veteran.

The idea came to Leininger last year, when he planned a Memorial Day outing to the cemetery with his family. On the way, he stopped and bought all the flags he could find at a Walmart.

But when he arrived at the Riverside facility, "I was saddened that over half the cemetery was empty" of flags, he said. "I told my wife that I was going to do everything I could to fill it."

Leininger contacted the cemetery management. He learned that there was no funding available to pay for Memorial Day flags for the approximately 225,000 grave sites. Some individuals and groups donated flags, he was told, but not nearly enough to adorn every grave site. Any attempt to make up the difference would be welcome.

So Leininger took up the cause of raising money to pay for as many flags as possible, and enlisted the help of police and firefighter associations, other veterans, and just about anyone else he could find.

The idea struck a chord. Word spread, and offers of support began pouring in.

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