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Arlington panel calls for end to memento exception

Nov. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sydney Kelly
Sydney Kelly, 3, places a rose on the grave of Navy SEAL Aaron Carson Vaughn on Nov. 11 in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
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WASHINGTON — An advisory commission is recommending that Arlington National Cemetery end its relaxed policy on mementos in a section for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of next year.

The Washington Post reports that the panel led by former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran, made the recommendation Tuesday to the secretary of the Army. The commission says it is fitting to end the exception to the cemetery's policy, which allows only flowers and small photographs, as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The familiar image of rows of white gravestones at Arlington should be preserved, commission members said.

Families of service members buried in Section 60 objected to the removal of items left at grave sites and a compromise allowed a small photo and a handmade memento to be left through April, when normal maintenance resumes.

Some families' decorations extended to wind chimes and holiday lights, said Chet Edwards, a commission member and a former Democratic congressman from Texas.

"While there are families with individual ways of grieving, we have an obligation to preserve for future generations consistent standards at Arlington National Cemetery," Edwards said. "What's been harder and harder for us to defend is there's a standard for Section 60 and even within Section 60."

Family representatives acknowledge those items distract from the solemn atmosphere, but say tasteful mementos should be allowed.

"This is part of our grieving process," said Paula Davis, whose son Justin is buried there. "It might be generational. We personalize the graves. We don't just stand there and pray."

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