Mementos left at ANC collected for records
September 29, 2011
September 2009 brought significant changes at the U.S. Army Center for Military History as it took on a pilot program to collect and record items left at gravesites in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. This section, above others, is where a majority of servicemembers from the most current wars are buried.
"When Section 60 was opened a phenomenon developed; people began leaving tributes on graves, more than anywhere else in the cemetery," said Robert J. Dalessandro, chief of Military History, U. S. Army Center for Military History. "We wanted to link items to grave sites." Without that connection he continued, there isn't much point in collecting the items.
The program has Center for Military History staff going out to Section 60 about once a week, more during peak events such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, to collect all the mementos and tributes.
Curators collect challenge coins, medals, military insignias, photos and tributes. Though items such as food and perishables are recorded in logs, they are not collected. Dalessandro cited a particularly touching item, a high school football uniform and helmet, along with the Soldier's graduation program, that were left next to a marker. Although personal items are occasionally recovered, most items found relate to the servicemember's military experience.
"Right now we house the items in acid-free boxes at [Fort] Belvoir in their Directorate of Logistics warehouse," said Dalessandro. Arlington National Cemetery will determine what the permanent placement of the items will be, whether they will be on display at the cemetery or sent elsewhere.
Since the beginning of the program, over 2,000 items have been collected, recorded and put into storage.
"I feel the work we do is important -- it honors the [servicemembers]. Our curators are very proud to do this. It's something we are honored to do," said Dalessandro.
Family members have requested that items be returned to them. When President Barack Obama left a Presidential Coin at the gravesite of Medal of Honor recipient Spc. Ross McGinnis, the Family of the fallen servicemember requested the coin's return.
Dalessandro went on to explain that one hope for the program is to make the item list available at the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center so visitors, can look up a servicemember and view the list of items left at their gravesite.
Currently, throughout the rest of the cemetery, there is no collection program in place, as fewer items are left in these areas.
Arlington National Cemetery does have a floral policy in place for those wishing to leave flowers at gravesites. The policy states that fresh flowers may be left at gravesites but are removed when blooms start to fade. Artificial flowers, potted plants and wreaths are only permitted during certain times of the year. For more information on the policy, visit the ANC website at: www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/FuneralInformation/FloralTributes.aspx. For more information on the U.S. Army Center of Military History, visit www.history.army.mil.