As casualties mounted in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a solemn place inside Arlington National Cemetery — Section 60 — has served as the final resting place for many of the fallen.
The section is far from sites often visited by tourists, such as the Tomb of the Unknowns and Robert E. Lee’s home.
Not surprisingly, many families have visited the graves and placed mementos: stones, crosses, photographs, and letters. But now, the next time they visit this “living memorial,” all those mementos will be gone, Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post reports:
The changes began in August when cemetery officials decided that Section 60 should be subject to the same rules as the rest of the grounds. “The policy hasn’t changed,” said Jennifer Lynch, a spokeswoman for the cemetery. “The policy is the same, but the enforcement is different.” She said the cemetery was responding to complaints that the section had become too disorderly.
Arlington officials announced the changes on their website this summer, but most families only noticed when they came on the grounds. Items with “unusual, artistic, or historical significance” were taken to storage at Fort Belvoir, Va., but most were thrown in the trash.
Families who spoke with The Post were devastated.
“Painting the stones and leaving them there was a way of unloading all of this grief,” Laura Hess, the mother of 1st Lt. R.J Hess who was killed in Afghanistan, told The Post. “They never let the families know. I would have driven there immediately and collected my things. It is so hard. It is just not right.”
In the past, most drawings, photos, and letters were left until they became “unsightly” — but this appears to be the first total cleanup of Section 60.
According to the cemetery’s guidebook for next of kin, the only tribute permitted to be left at graves are flowers. Flags are also allowed, but only on Memorial Day.
“The fact is that Arlington National Cemetery is not the Vietnam War memorial or the World War II memorial,” Lynch told The Post. “It is a functioning cemetery, and we must remain true to that mission.”
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