Sunday, June 13, 2010

Arlington National Cemetery ~ Chaos and Sorrow

For anyone who has ever been to Arlington National Cemetery, there is a majesty and a sense of walking through legend that you can not capture with a camera.

Most people hop the bus, ride to the 'key points', reflect a bit on those neat guys at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the big house on the hill - the Lee House, and the eternal flame on the Kennedy shrine. A few of us actually walk the roads. We see areas of the Cemetery that are rarely seen. We see the numerous plaques and monuments that are constructed through out the Cemetery - like this POW plaque - that commemorate so many aspects of our history.

We start to feel the numbers of graves... the numbers of men and women who have served our country honorably. And, it doesn't take long before you realize that most who are buried here lived long and productive lives. Those who have fallen in battle are a smaller number, but a number that strikes your heart with profound sorrow and pride, and, for this American, deep gratitude. Wisely, they are buried together.

The last time I was there, they pointed out the section that held the fallen from Vietnam. That was new - the mentioning that is. As the years have faded the remembrances of Vietnam, we can now speak of it. I never stopped thinking about or remembering Vietnam and I knew where the section was. It is a section that I visit each time I go there, for I have someone there. I have been the weepy person standing there.

Now it has been discovered that Arlington National Cemetery has been stricken with shame caused by careless errors. A shame that occurs at every cemetery - whether it is military, public or private. It is caused by carelessness, illiteracy and an attitude of disdain towards both the living and the dead. It happens all of the time and it happens everywhere. It should NEVER happen anywhere. But, it does. The worst part is, short of disinterring each casket and testing the DNA, when do you call it resolved? For cremains, there is no testing. The only path to resolution is to trust those who have proven themselves unworthy.

While Arlington was burying people in the wrong places and tossing urns of cremains into the fill dirt, people were trusting that care was being given to each casket and urn. Lovely people were comforting the family and securing the trust. I believe that they were as naive as the rest of us. I believe that nothing nefarious was going on behind the scenes. I believe that lax attitudes create chaos and it merged into the perfect storm in Arlington.

Arlington National Cemetery is not the largest of our military cemeteries, but it is the best known. It is the shining star. It is the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the Old Guard - what can be more honorable that that? It is the place we think of when a military burial occurs. It is a place we all believed in.

I have been subjected to a 'misplaced' burial and a 'misplaced' headstone of a family member. To this day, I have no way of knowing if it was correctly resolved --- I had to trust the untrustworthy. As families are worrying and calling to get an answer, knowing that each call brings yet another answer, often conflicting with the last, the pain that sets in is overwhelming. I felt it again, all these years later, just reading about this. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who are trying so hard to find resolution. I pray that they get the resolution they are entitled to.

For the people who are annoyed that I pointed out that it happens everywhere - the day you think that a fallen soldier or old vet is ranked by which cemetery he is buried in, we have truly lost our ethos - our fundamental values and concerns for one another. You can find military headstones in every cemetery in this country and in many foreign countries. I will never try to judge the young widow standing over a grave in Spokane or a mother standing over a grave in Idaho as being less in pain than those standing in Arlington. I am grateful to each of them - those who fell while serving and those who lived a long life after serving - where ever they are buried.

My concern is that we consistently bury them with the honor they deserve.

1 comment:

Sarge Charlie said...

this the saddest thing i have seen in my 73 years.