More than 150 participants in the Anaheim Police Department’s Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets program fanned out at Riverside National Cemetery on Saturday morning to plant U.S. flags in advance of Memorial Day.
The 155 youngsters were part of a small army of more than 1,000 volunteers from Riverside and other communities that beautified the final resting place for eligible military members, their spouses, dependents and parents.
In all, nearly 200,000 gravesites were adorned with U.S. flags Saturday.
“It is an overwhelming show of American pride,” said Sgt. Jacob Gallacher, who runs the APD’s Cops 4 Kids Junior Cadets program, which is designed to develop the foundational qualities of respect, responsibility and discipline by providing structured programs that foster a positive relationship between police and youth.
“In talking to the kids, it meant a lot to them,” Gallacher said. “Several of them have family members that are currently in the military or who have served in the military.”
The APD junior cadets planted between 10,000 and 12,000 flags, Gallacher said.
The massive flag planting is the most popular community service project junior cadets participate in as part of their graduation requirements.
The junior cadets have been visiting Riverside National Cemetery every Memorial Day and Veterans Day weekend ever since Anaheim Police Sgt. Brennan Leininger launched the “A Flag for Every Hero” program a few years ago.
Leininger is an Air Force veteran who served from 1994 to 2001 as a military policeman.
He also is program director and board member of Honoring Our Fallen Inc., a Cypress-based non-profit that provides comprehensive support services to families of fallen veterans and first responders.
“It has gained so much momentum and blossomed into this,” Leininger said. “It’s just crazy to see such a huge transformation — 200,000 flags in less than two hours. It’s great. You blink and you miss it. To see all the kids out here is awesome because it’s a reminder to them not to forget the freedoms that we all enjoy.”
APD junior cadet Daniel Ortiz, 11, plans to go into the military.
“Today went perfect,” Daniel said. “We set up a lot of flags and remembered a lot of people. This reminds all of us that we should thank the people who have served for our country and have kept us safe.”
Another junior cadet, Francisco Arroyo, 8, said his sister, Ariam, is going to be a police officer.
“I placed 62 flags,” said Francisco, as third-grader at Ponderosa Elementary.
“I felt sad, but at the same time good because we came and (thought about) all of them. I learned to respect them and honor people who saved us.”