Arlington graves stripped of personal mementos in controversial cleanup

Family photos and mementos on the gravestone of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Quadi Hudgins, who died in Iraq, were later removed by Arlington National Cemetery. Pictures taken March 13 (left) and October 7 (right). Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
A broken heart was stripped from the gravestone of one soldier. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Arlington National Cemetery recently began enforcing a policy that forbids the placing of mementos on graves, notably in Section 60, which contains the graves of over 800 servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The removal of personal items has outraged many families of those buried in the cemetery, Reuters reports. 

Photographer Kevin Lamarque, who documented the graveside mementos in a series of images published on PhotoBlog earlier this year, writes:

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.

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.

Celeste Mills of El Paso, Texas, kneeling beside the grave of her youngest son, Joshua Mills, who was killed in Afghanistan (top). The removal of personal mementos from graves has outraged many families of those buried at the cemetery. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
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