I’m tired of writing about crazy shit. But, to quote a demented cartoon character, when life gives you poop, make poop juice.
When you’re in the US military and you die, the government kindly springs for your tombstone. In all previous wars, your tombstone would have your name, rank, military branch, date of death and the war/country where you died, and you also get the option of being buried in a national cemetery with other soldiers. But now, if you died in Afghanistan or Iraq, the military is offering to also tattoo your stone with “Operation Iraqi Freedom” or “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Although not the most direct, this does seem a method to tie the dead of the current war to the soldiers of past wars, generally seen as more noble and epic.
I suppose putting the operation name on a tombstone wouldn’t be that big a deal, if that’s what the family wanted. But that’s not always the case:
Nadia and Robert McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June 2004, said “Operation Iraqi Freedom” ended up on his government-supplied headstone in Oceanside, Calif., without family approval.
“I was a little taken aback,” Robert McCaffrey said, describing his reaction when he first saw the operation name on Patrick’s tombstone. “They certainly didn’t ask my wife; they didn’t ask me.” He said Patrick’s widow told him she had not been asked either.
“In one way, I feel it’s taking advantage to a small degree,” McCaffrey said. “Patrick did not want to be there, that is a definite fact.”
Yeah, everyone makes mistakes. But if you’re carving the final words to recognize a dead man and comfort his family, maybe you go the extra mile to not add unwanted words. Or maybe the carvers are just told to put those phrases there no matter what.
Hell, even the tombstone manufacturers find this a bit propagandistic:
The owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades is uncomfortable, too.
“It just seems a little brazen that that’s put on stones,” said Jeff Martell, owner of Granite Industries of Vermont. “It seems like it might be connected to politics.”
The way this seems to work is that when your loved one dies, the mortuary shows you a mock-up of the tombstone with the military operation name on it, and the family can say yes or no. But let me tell you from experience, when a loved one has just died and you’re at the funeral home making arrangements, part of you wants to say yes to everything so you can run back home and continue crying. Hell, most of you wants that. I imagine many folks just take one look and say okay, because anything else is just too hard. So when the mortuary says “how about this?” instead of “tell us what you’d like us to do”, they probably get a lot more operation names than they would otherwise.
And the punchline for all this comes from Steve Muro, in charge of national cemeteries for the Department of Veterans Affairs:
“The headstone is not a PR purpose. It is to let the country know and the people that visit the cemetery know who served this country and made the country free for us.”
Um, Steve, that’s kind of the definition of PR. A tombstone is supposed to be for the friends and family of the bereaved, not a public service announcement for the American military. But maybe when you get buried in a veterans’ cemetery you stop being a deceased loved one and start becoming a piece of a monument.
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