Section 60 stripped of mementos

October 8, 2013

Arlington, Virginia

By Kevin Lamarque

In March of 2013 I walked through Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, the burial site for soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike most of the nearly 400,000 orderly and somber graves over Arlington’s 612 acres, the newer graves in Section 60 carried fresh reminders of lives cut too short and of too many loved ones left behind bearing unspeakable sorrow. There were immensely sad graveside moments of girlfriends, wives, children, mothers and fathers sitting, kneeling, laying beside a grave, often touching, holding or kissing the headstone of their fallen loved one. These loved ones would often leave behind mementos of all kinds, a way to keep their connection to those who departed too soon.

At that time, I documented many of these graveside mementos in a photo story for Reuters. Some of the images brought tears to my eyes…

Recently, it was brought to my attention that Arlington National Cemetery was enforcing a policy that forbids the placing of these graveside mementos. In short time, these headstones have been stripped of these expressions of love and loss. Some are saved by the cemetery, some discarded. I took a walk though Section 60 this week to witness the changes and I was saddened to see these elements of humanity swept away. Section 60 suddenly looks like every other section of the cemetery, save for the freshness of the graves. Evidence of open wounds, healing and reflection are no more.

There has been backlash from families, but it appears that Arlington National Cemetery will, at least for now, adhere to their policy in an effort to maintain the dignity of the hallowed grounds.


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Posted by DougAnderson | Report as abusive

What is wrong with government? It is inevitably filled with people who come to believe their own institutional priorities trump the common sense and emotions of ‘ignorant’ humanity. Those who believe the government must intervene to help enforce humanity fail to see the inherent inhumanity of the government bureaucratic system itself. As a former federal employee, I saw again and again good people lose their way when balancing a secure job for life within a powerful institution vs. any decision that matched common sense and reality but challenged that institution’s priorities. This Arlington travesty is but one more example, a spit in the face by a bureaucrat to a family who sacrificed all. Justified by a ‘servant’ who cares more about his/her institutional priorities than the humanity of the people they are meant to serve. It’s a sad irony that the justification for suchs moves is usually the same of cowards and dictators: the mantra that ‘chaos would ensue if I didn’t enforce my agency’s rules.’ Shame on the person who made this decision, and the cowards who followed.

Posted by IdiotSavanteGA | Report as abusive

There is a LOT wrong with our ‘government’ – a LOT. This is just one of many, many things wrong with it.

Posted by Overcast451 | Report as abusive

If people want to leave pictures and the like, they need to bury the soldier in a civilian cemetery which allows displays.

This is not acceptable in a national cemetery. No other family members have done this after other wars and I don’t think it should be allowed now.

Why do people think that public displays are necessary? Mourning is done in the heart, not on the public stage. Arlington is a place of quiet contemplation and should remain so.

Posted by Daleville | Report as abusive

My father and brother are buried in Veteran’s cemeteries. This has been the rule since the end of the US Civil War in Veteran’s cemeteries. Two holidays a year you can have small flowers or a flag. Then they are taken up. Has something to do with the military being uniform and standard like proper hair cuts, gig lines and exposure of tattoos. It isn’t McHale’s Navy cemetery.

Posted by Vuenbelvue | Report as abusive

It is a military cemetery.

Posted by jzaz | Report as abusive

We should start a petition on CHANGE.ORG to see if we can get Arlington National Cemetary to change its policy. This is extremly inconsiderate to the families. Its not about the cementary or upholding some ridiculous policy. It is hallowed ground, and these men and women gave thier own lives for this ground, and every piece of land we stand on in the United States! We are willing to lose all empathy because what?!!! we want to make sure every thing looks in order? This is WRONG and who cares if this has been the “policy” since the damn civil war. Lets change it.

Posted by Jamelyn | Report as abusive

There are people in this world that plant gardens over a loved ones grave and others that prefer emptiness, feeling that nothing can bring comfort. Ultimately, the grave is for those left behind, not the courageous who have moved on to dance in the great beyond.
Let the people do what they will, regardless of policy. Let the people do what they will, regardless of acceptableness.
Let the people do what they will, regardless of what is deemed appropriate.
Let the people do what they will, and be proud their dancing loved ones did the same, even unto death.

Posted by TG34 | Report as abusive

Perhaps they should stop the need for new graves and the exhibitions of loss would not be warranted!

Posted by Robocop5626 | Report as abusive

Glad to hear the authorities are adhering to the established policies. There is nothing tackier than old snapshots and teddy bears draped about haphazardly, in fact it is most undignified. If the survivors want a cheap piblic display let them bury their fallen heroes elsewhere.

Posted by PeterBarlow | Report as abusive

I can understand this because it fits right in with the military mentality of “it doesn’t matter whether it is right or wrong, logical or illogical….this is how we do it and orders are orders”.

Ask any soldier or veteran to name off a few completely stupid rules and regulations they’ve had to endure; they’ll be able to recite an armload of things tat don’t seem to make any sense on the face of it. Later on in life they may tell you they understand the need for this regimented stupidity.

Posted by BillFord | Report as abusive

I agree w the policy. I’d hate for my family to come visit my headstone only to feel guilty that they havent brought flowers everyday or cant afford all the decorations others do. Its a military cemetery, everyone is to be treated equally. Same reason everyone gets the same white marble stone. The only differentiation is our name and the military decorations we earned. If we wanted to be special and have everyone notice we’d be artists or something. The soldier’s life is one of faceless sacrifice, thats why they call it ‘serving’. in life, and in death.

Posted by StuDubya | Report as abusive

besides, it would be one thing if ppl just pit a lil rock or something there but people are getting out of control blowing the place up w all the crap theyre littering it with. if everyone knew about discretion and could respect the sanctity of the military cemetery, there wouldnt be this backlash from the authority. just like rules in the army. you can bend em but once it gets out of control they come down like a brick. DISCRETION PPL! jesu frikkin cristo, dependapotimus is ruining it for the rest of us even in the afterlife…

Posted by StuDubya | Report as abusive

The military does like uniforms, both while on duty and after death. Just as I could not wear pins or logos of worthwhile groups on my uniform when I was active duty I can understand the rules for “conduct” after death. The Military Cemetery is the burial place for people who have worn the uniform while alive and now are in a uniform military burial ground. Perhaps part of my “coldness” is due to my belief that their bones my be there but that the spirit of the person is everywhere. I do not have to go to a cemetery to think of a loved one, I have them in my heart forever. Being a Christian I can have faith that they are in a better place – free from pain and free from government shutdowns.

Posted by richinnc | Report as abusive

If people feel the need for a “shrine” they should do it within their own homes. A Military Cemetery is not the place for this sort of display. As one person said, the memory is within ones heart, and the departed will be forever cherished there.

Posted by snappycappy | Report as abusive

The military is doing the right thing here.

Posted by WolfmanJack | Report as abusive

As a father whose son is buried in Section 60, I too have left mementos on his grave. I can only imagine the appearance of Arlington if all these were left in place. I have observed the mowing and leaf collection crews working hard to keep Arlington beautiful. This would be impossible with all the mementos in place. I leave what I want when I am there, a special picture, flowers etc., knowing full well they will be collected. I leave these as a connection with my son when I visit. It is more for me than him. I want his burial ground to be beautiful and respectful. Thanks for the hard work of the grounds keepers.

Posted by chrisdad | Report as abusive