With a career that spanned two decades of telling the Coast Guard’s story Chief Warrant Officer Ed Kruska shared his passion of the Coast Guard mission and its people with the nation. His commitment to the service goes beyond the call of duty as he inspires generations of service members and their families to honor their profession and their heritage.
Kruska served as editor of Coast Guard Reservist magazine and published 163 issues and nearly 5,000 pages through his tenure. In 1996 Kruska published a story about Coast Guard monuments across the United States urging Coast Guardsmen nationwide to pay their dues to those who served before them. Wanting to do more, and turning the magazine’s words into actions, he gathered with a group of friends at Arlington National Cemetery to honor veterans who were buried there.
The following year, Kruska joined with Master Chief Mark Allen, the current Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve Forces, and their families as they met at Coast Guard Hill on Memorial Day. Together, as they stood in admiration of the service and sacrifice others had made, Kruska thought — why not place Coast Guard flags on the graves of fallen Coast Guardsmen at Arlington each Veterans Day?
Kruska worked with the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association and after a year of planning Flags Across America came to life on the Saturday before Veterans Day 1999. This time, the group was much larger than the original eight, and the Chiefs and their families placed 75 Coast Guard flags on the graves of Coast Guardsmen buried at Arlington. The families also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall where flags were placed besides each panel where the names of seven Coast Guardsmen who fought in Vietnam were etched into the wall.
The tribute to Coast Guard veterans grew, and today the event continues to build with Kruska as chairperson. The day now includes a rally outside the cemetery prior to posting the Coast Guard flags as well as a flag ceremony and Coast Guard history tour. With more people, the Flags Across America group is also able to find more graves of fallen service members from the Coast Guard and its predecessor services, including the U.S. Life-Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service.
From its humble beginnings of eight people, the annual event now includes crowds of Coast Guardsmen and their families. This year the Flags Across America group was able to post 600 Coast Guard standards. Amongst the attendees this year was Admiral Bob Papp, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard.
“It is an honor and privilege to commemorate the service of Coast Guard veterans that guarded our coasts in peace and defended our Nation in war,” said Papp, adding, “With Flags Across America, Ed Kruska has established in our service a powerful way for us to observe these manners of our profession with dignity and admiration.”
Kruska’s fervor for honoring those who went before him has been contagious. Since January 2001, more than 86 Flags Across America chapters have blossomed at Coast Guard units in a total of 36 states.
Recently retired, Kruska will continue his efforts in paying tribute to Coast Guardsmen and veterans of our country. Veterans like Kruska are a reminder to us all that when thinking about the brave men and women who have served, it is not enough to utter words of praise, but to live by those words.
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