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Memorial Day 2017: Soldiers place 280,000 flags on headstones of fallen service members 

As part of a Memorial Day tradition, soldiers placed 280,000 flags on the headstones of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery.

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The tradition, which soldiers call “Flags In,” has been held every year since the 3rd U.S. Infantry, known as the “Old Guard,” was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit 70 years ago.

RELATED: On Memorial Day, President Trump honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice

Specialist Kristen Pinnock participated in the tribute for the first time this year, telling WFLA, “I’m thinking about the families -- what they had gone through, what they still go through.”

“It really pulls at your heartstrings as it reminds you that we’ll always be there. We’ll always honor our guys,” Staff Sgt. Jason Kohne said.

RELATED: Take a look at this moving memorial dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan

It takes nearly 1,000 soldiers to complete the ritual, and they also perform the same task at U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

“I would do this every single year I could until I retire, if I could,” Army Pvt. Wes DeFee said told The Washington Examiner. “It’s such an honor to help the families and support them with honor and respect.”

Memorial Day sign at Kansas restaurant goes viral 

For Memorial Day, it was the perfect sign of respect.

The photo of a sandwich board outside Mayberry’s Bar & Grill in the northern Kansas city of Washington that pays tribute to the American servicemen who have lost their lives fighting for their country has gone viral. 

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“We have 619,300 reasons to be closed on Monday,” is written in chalk on the sign, referring to U.S. service deaths from World War I, World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sign was the idea of Mayberry’s employee Kelly Ray, the Wichita Eagle reported. Ray moved from Missouri to northern Kansas earlier this year, and he brought a sign he made while working at a previous restaurant. Mayberry’s would be closed on Sunday and on Memorial Day, but the sign posted outside the restaurant would be photographed and shared across social media. By late Sunday it had been shared more than 109,000 times.

“I just love the message,” Ray told the Wichita Eagle on Sunday. “You don’t have to like our president or like some of the things our government is doing, but you sure better respect those who have laid down their lives for us to be able to live here.”

According to official U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs numbers, and depending on how deaths are calculated, the sign totals are not completely accurate, but the message is still relevant.

Ray told KWCH that many patrons have thanked him for putting up the sign. One veteran thanked him in person, but Ray, who is the restaurant’s manager and chef, stopped him.

“I said, ‘No, thank you,’” Ray told KWCH. “You guys are the reason we’re here and we appreciate that.

“He said ‘Damn shame more people don’t think like that,’” Ray said.

Ray said the idea for the sign was formed when he worked at a Missouri restaurant.

“I mentioned to the owner that we should be closed for Memorial Day, and he said, ‘I can’t think of one good reason why we would do that, because people are going to be out and they’ll want to eat,’ ” Ray told the Wichita Eagle. “I saw a post on Facebook with the number of people who have died in our wars, so I basically just put that on a sign and showed it to him.”

The owner closed the restaurant.

“People talk about Memorial Day being the start of summer and that sort of thing,” Ray told the newspaper. “But what it’s really about is those people who died. I hope people think about them.”

Afghanistan car bomb explosion kills 18

At least 18 people were killed and six others were injured Saturday in a car bomb explosion in eastern Afghanistan, CNN reported Saturday.

The attack occurred near a bus station in the city of Khost, said Najib Danish, spokesman for the interior ministry.

There has been no claim of responsibility.

Nation marks Armed Forces Day

Dignitaries are taking time Saturday to mark Armed Forces Day.

The nationally-recognized day was created under the Truman administration, and is marked every May 20 as a way to honor all branches of the military, according to the Department of Defense. People are encouraged to pay respects to those serving in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. 

>> Read more trending news 

President Trump, who is on his first trip overseas, tweeted a thank you message to the armed forces. Other dignitaries are also marking the day on social media.

300 veterans celebrate birthday of Hamilton boy whose dad died in Iraq

When Katie Luff asked her son, Aiden Luff, what kind of birthday party her son wanted, he said a party with a military theme. All veterans. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. If you served, Aiden wanted you to be invited.

“Veterans are much cooler,” Aiden, 7, said.

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On Nov. 21, 2010, when Aiden was only 5 months old, his father, Sgt. David James Luff Jr., 29, died in Tikrit, Iraq, after insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire, the Department of Defense said.

David Luff joined the Army in July 2004 as a tanker and attended training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon completion of training, he was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, where he served as a gunner.

MORE: Organizers hope to grow Hamilton’s Memorial Day Parade

In 2006, he was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for 15 months. In April 2009, he was reassigned to Able Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” where he served as a driver. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in January of 2010. Seven months later, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn as a gunner.

“He’s very proud of veterans and his father,” Luff, 32, said.

Aiden was 6 weeks old when his father was deployed to Iraq. That was the last time they saw each other.

MORE: Memorial in honor of Middletown Judge Mark Wall to benefit elementary

When Luff’s family and friends started planning the party last week, Luff had no idea how many veterans would accept and invitation to a birthday party for a 7-year-old. She figured about 30 people might show up.

Instead it was 300.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

Aiden rode on the back of the motorcycle of  Perry Davis, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Associates. As they approached the airport, Davis was amazed by the turnout of well-wishers, many of them saluting the young boy.

“You can’t describe it,” Davis said.

Then he came up with the perfect word: “Awesome.”

WATCH: America’s veterans hailed in grand way at Lakota East High School

Those in attendance showered Aiden with birthday presents, including several challenge coins, a leather motorcycle vest stitched with his nickname, “Boo Boo,” and patches, a military shadow box and dog tags, and he was invited to meet several members of Team Fastrax, a based skydiving team based out of Middletown, Ohio, that performed.

“He was treated very special,” his mother said. “It was emotional. It was amazing. All these men, all these men who didn’t know my son, showed such kindness and respect like he was family. The number of people, well, it was overwhelming.”

Her son, she said, typically very shy, interacted with those at his party.

“He had the biggest smile all day,” she said. “He thinks he’s famous now.”

MORE: Butler County veterans spending to see double digit increases

She said veterans are special because they appreciate the sacrifices of those in the military and their families.

“They understand and care and let you know not to forget the people who didn’t come home,” she said.

The Luffs were married on Dec. 31, 2008. Less than two years later, he was killed serving his country during his second tour of duty.

When Luff heard the knock at her front door seven years ago and saw a chaplain standing there, she knew the numbing news: The love of her life, her high school sweetheart, was gone.

“Every life plan was just taken away,” she said. “We had so many things planned. It was so soon. My world collapsed right there.”

Now, she said, her job as a mother is to protect her “best little buddy,” that energetic 7-year-old boy.

“He gave me a purpose to keep my head up and keep marching,” she said.

Every so often, Aiden flashes a facial expression that reminds his mother of his father. Those are good days in the Luff house.

“I still have that piece of Dave,” Luff said.

United to Texas national guardsman returning from Afghanistan: Pay up for bag

A national guardsman on his way home to Kyle, Texas, after a 21-month deployment in Afghanistan said United Airlines made him pay $200 to check a bag because it was too heavy to qualify for the airline’s free military baggage policy.

“I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” First Lieutenant John Rader, who was preparing to board a flight in El Paso Monday night when the incident happened, told FOX 7 Austin. “Well, I didn’t have another bag, so I was caught in a bind.”

>> Read more trending news 

United’s policy states that U.S. military and their dependents traveling on official business receive waived service charges for up to five checked bags at 70 pounds each. Because Rader’s bag, which contained items including a Kevlar vest, helmets and boots, was over 70 pounds, he said he was given no choice but to pay the fee.

“In the past, airlines have been very flexible to soldiers, whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements, helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top,” Rader told FOX 7.

Military baggage policies differ depending on the airline. Southwest offers active duty military an exemption from its two-bag limit and free baggage up to 100 pounds, while Delta allows two free bags up to 50 pounds for active duty military traveling on personal business.

A United representative said the airline has reached out to Rader in hopes of remedying the situation.

It hasn’t been a great year for the airline. In March, United received widespread criticism for barring two teens from their flight because they were wearing leggings. And in April, video footage of a man being forcibly removed from a flight made national headlines.

Read more about Rader’s experience here.

Funeral home under fire for displaying veteran's body without casket

People on social media are outraged after a funeral home put a Ringgold, Georgia, veteran’s body on display for visitation without a casket over what his son claims was a dispute over money.

According to WTVC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, photos of the body of 71-year-old George Taylor, a Vietnam veteran, draped in a flag while lying on a gurney during his visitation are circulating on social media as controversy swirls over Heritage Funeral Home’s handling of the situation.

James Taylor, the veteran's son, told WTVC that there was an issue with a life insurance payment.

>> Read more trending news

"At first, we were OK with it, but like I told the guy, I said this was very disrespectful to my dad," James Taylor told WTVC.

He added: "They came to me and told me that unless $9,000 was paid, they couldn't put him into the ground; he would have to sit in the freezer until we paid it or (until) the insurance came through."

As a result, Facebook user Ella Moss and others spoke out on social media.

"This is how his friends (and) family had to see him," Moss wrote under a photo of Taylor's body, which we are not showing or linking to here because of its graphic nature. "I am in total disbelief."

>> On Rare.us: A veteran almost took matters into his own hands after he was denied financial assistance from the VA hospital

Moss' post has been shared more than 3,000 times.

But the funeral home and another relative are telling a different story.

“We were trying to honor the request and let them have some closure by viewing their loved one,” David Cummings of the funeral home told WTVC. “We serve this community. We love the community."

Beverly Roe, who said she was the sister-in-law of the deceased veteran, told WTVC that the family “shook on” the arrangement.

“His son was (OK with it), too. We shook on it. The three of us shook on it, and then all of a sudden, somebody comes in and wants to stir up trouble,” she said. “These guys (at the funeral home) haven’t done anything. They were so nice.”

>> On Rare.us: Vietnam vet is looking for prayers after thieves broke into his home and took his most treasured items

Whatever the case, the director of the Chattanooga National Cemetery saw the Facebook posts and called Heritage Funeral Home to guarantee that Taylor would be properly buried in a casket, WTVC reported.

Director Charles Arnold told WTVC that he contacted the funeral home and was told Taylor would be placed in a proper casket for the burial.

“We wanted to make sure that this burial would meet our standards, as we would do with every veteran,” Arnold told WTVC.

When Taylor’s body was transferred to a funeral home vehicle for a procession, a woman identified as Tiffany Lambert reportedly stood outside with her hand over her heart as she played “God Bless the USA.”

She commented on WTVC’s Facebook page by saying it was the right thing to do.

“I had to. Someone has to show this man the respect he deserves I only played the song as they loaded this American Soldier up – Thank you sir for your service and God Bless The U.S.A.!” she wrote.

Read more here.

Sonic boom rocks Central Florida

A sonic boom shocked Central Floridians early Sunday morning after the Air Force landed a secret military aircraft at Kennedy Space Center.

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The U.S. Air Force tweeted Sunday “The Air Force #X37B #OTV4 has returned from obit and landed safely at @NASAKennedy.”

The X37B is an unmanned secret military shuttle, which has been orbiting the Earth for more than 700 days, the Air Force reported.

The landing marks the first time the X-37B has landed at KSC using the same Shuttle Landing Facility runway as NASA’s manned orbiters.

The U.S. Air Force said, "X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”

Israeli missile launch: What is the Patriot Missile Defense System?

The Israeli military deployed its missile defense system Thursday to intercept a drone fired from Syria, officials said.

According to The Associated Press, the incident came after Syria accused Israel of attacking a military installation near Damascus International Airport early Thursday.

While Israel has several defense systems, military officials used the country’s aging Patriot Missile Defense System in Thursday’s incident.

What does the latest Patriot Missile Defense System do?

Here’s a quick look.

What was it designed for?According to the U.S. Army, the latest version of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System is designed to detect, track and destroy unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

What weapon is used in the system?The U.S. Army's Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile, the newest weapon in the Patriot arsenal, is used in the system. 

How does it work?The system, guided by computers, launches Patriot missiles that seek out and destroy targets by slamming into them and exploding.

What does the missile contain?The PAC-3 Missile has a solid propellant rocket motor, 180 small-attitude control motors, a radar seeker, aerodynamic controls and an inertial guidance system, according to Aeroweb.com.

What makes them “mobile?”The missiles are transported by and launched from the M901 launching station, which is mounted on a semitrailer and towed by a tractor. The tractor can carry up to 16 PAC-3 missiles. 

Who operates it?A crew of three operators analyzes incoming threats and responds by launching missiles if necessary.

How does the missile find its target?The PAC-3 missile is directed by a computer to an intercept point. Motors guide the missile directly into the incoming target.

Which countries have the systems?The Patriot Missile Defense System is in service (or on order) in the Republic of China (Taiwan), Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Spain. Poland will soon be getting the system. South Korea purchased a secondhand system from Germany.

Is it the main weapons system in Israel?The county has come to rely on its “Iron Dome” system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and its “Arrow” system, which was built to intercept ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The new “David’s Sling” missile defense system was introduced earlier this month. It is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and medium- to long-range rockets.

Has Israel used the Patriot system before?Yes, it has. Israel’s system is an older version of the Patriot missile defense system. The last time the country used it was in July 2016, when missiles were fired at a drone believed to have been launched from Syria. Both missiles missed the drone.

What does it cost?Each MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile costs around $3.4 million. The launcher costs $3.8 million.

(Sources: U.S. Army; Aeroweb.com; The Associated Press)

Veteran, soldier boyfriend accused of shooting, killing therapy dog on video

A North Carolina Army veteran and her soldier boyfriend are facing animal cruelty charges after they allegedly tied her PTSD therapy dog to a tree and filmed themselves shooting and killing the animal.

According to the Fayetteville Observer, Marinna Rollins, 23, and Jarren Heng, 25, laughed on video as they shot Rollins' dog, Cam, with a rifle, said Cumberland County District Attorney Clark Reaves.

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Rollins shot Cam, previously named Huey, in the head before firing at him multiple times, the arrest warrant said. Heng also shot the dog on video, the Observer reported.

Rollins, who retired from the Army earlier this year for medical reasons, implied in an April 17 Facebook post that she had found a new home for Cam, the Observer reported.

"Sad he has to go, but he will be much happier where he is heading off to," she wrote, to which Heng replied, "He's gonna have such a great new life," according to the Observer.

Bail was set for $25,000 each for the pair.

Read more here.

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