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.