Beneath Arlington Cemetery, 3K Mementos Are Quietly Kept

A look at what becomes of what is left on the gravestones in Section 60
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2024 9:01 AM CDT
Beneath Arlington Cemetery, 3K Mementos Are Quietly Kept
A gravestone in Section 60.   (Getty Images / Joe Willmore)

Section 60 is a 14-acre parcel of the 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery and the final resting place for those who lost their lives fighting for their country post-9/11. That makes it home to a much more modern generation of fallen soldiers, and to a modern practice as well: the leaving of mementos on the graves. As Kelsey Baker writes for the Washington Post, friends and relatives began placing mementos on the gravestones with regularity roughly 20 years ago, and in 2009, then-Army Secretary Pete Geren asked the cemetery's museum staff to collect and retain those items that hadn't been ruined by the elements and hold some kind of artistic or historical significance. It now has 3,250 such items.

Each is labeled with the plot number and date of retrieval and lives within a transparent red plastic bag tucked within a white cardboard box. Those boxes are "locked out of sight in a climate-controlled underground corridor not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns," writes Baker. Arlington Historical Curator Rod Gainer takes weekly walks through Section 60 and collects the items, which together comprise "an amazing slice of life in the early 21st century of America." Among them: an Incredible Hulk Halloween mask, a Nintendo Game Boy, a high school football helmet. But there's no long-term plan for them. Gainer says the items aren't official government property, so tax dollars can't be spent on them. His hope is the Army will ultimately engage a third party to properly conserve and curate them. (Read the full article.)

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