Let Arlington's dead live a little longer

The Washington PostOctober 8, 2013 

Arlington National Cemetery workers are removing mementoes from graves in Section 60, upsetting family members.


As the mother of Marine Sgt. William Stacey, who was killed in action on Jan. 31, 2012, I believe I have not only the authority but also the responsibility to explain why families are so upset about the recent decision to remove mementos from the graves in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60.

Loss is not some placid green field through which people can walk their dogs. Loss has jagged, raw edges that are often colorful and messy and disorderly – just like the lives given in sacrifice that Arlington is meant to honor.

I can understand why those whose lives have been untouched by this century’s wars might want to push such recent losses quickly into the past. I can understand why they would prefer the word “sacrifice” to remain abstract, why they would find it easier to handle a national cemetery in which the lives of the dead remain buried, hidden and out of sight. It’s easier that way. But that is precisely why it is so important that the dead of these wars – which, in the case of Afghanistan, continue to claim lives – be a visible part of our nation’s understanding of what war is, what sacrifice means.

These war dead should be allowed to live for as long as possible. The day will come when their graves cease to be decorated, when those who cry for them in the dark of night are no more. But that is not where we are. Now these dead should be allowed to live in the only way they can: through the acts of remembrance of those who knew them and loved them.

Arlington exists to celebrate not merely the courage of those who fought generations before but also those whose courage is very much part of the present – those who were once with us and like us, until they gave all they had, and those who survive them, who must find the courage every single day of the rest of their lives to face the world without their child, their lover, their sibling, their parent, their friend.

Arlington Cemetery’s change in policy is insensitive and cruel. It is also just plain wrong. It is a dangerous obscuring both of what war really means to those who fight it and of what it should mean to those in whose name it is being fought.

The Washington Post

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