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Arlington Apologizes for Removing Mementos From Gravesites

Image: Arlington Apologizes for Removing Mementos From Gravesites

By Courtney Coren   |   Wednesday, 16 Oct 2013 01:33 PM

Under pressure from families, Arlington National Cemetery officials will again allow people to leave small photos and other mementos next to the headstones in Section 60, where the war dead from the long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

The officials also apologized for throwing away most of the things left behind at the grave sites and for not notifying families of their plans to clean up the area.

Section 60 had been turned into a sort of living memorial to those killed in the nation's longest war in Iraq and in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Visitors had left all kinds of mementos, from love letters and photos to worry stones, at the grave sites.

In August, Arlington officials ordered the site stripped of everything left behind in keeping with the general grounds cleanup policy that governs the national cemetery, according to The Washington Post.

Most of the items were thrown in the trash by groundskeepers. However, if there were mementos "deemed worthy of retention" they were collected by Army historians and sent to Fort Belvoir to be stored, cemetery officials said in a statement, the Post reported.

One mother who showed up at the cemetery to find everything gone from her son's grave site said that she would have liked a warning that the things left there could at least be collected and saved by family and friends.

"They never let the families know," Laura Hess told the Post. "I would have driven there immediately and collected my things. It is so hard. It is just not right."

The families of those buried in Section 60 were invited to a three-hour meeting recently where cemetery officials issued an apology and then announced that Arlington would temporarily suspend the cleanup policy in Section 60 for seven months through the fall and winter, when the grass is not cut as often due to the colder weather.

"We are looking for flexibility within Arlington's current policies to meet their needs," cemetery spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch told the Post.

It has long been the policy of Arlington that the grave sites remain clear of "statues, vigil lights, flags, glass objects of any nature and any type of commemorative items." The only items allowed to be left there are U.S. flags "placed on the grave sites by government employees for Memorial Day" and occasional "floral items and other types of decorations," as long as they are not secured "to the headstone or marker."

Family members of those buried in Section 60 believe they should be given special dispensation from cemetery rules because the conflict in Afghanistan continues and because no major memorials to the Iraq or Afghan wars have been erected, the Post noted.

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