Imagine if you will, the Tomb of the Unknowns; it is a well-recognized site. Imagine the Memorial Day ceremony, the honor guard, the president, the solemn laying of the wreath. Now imagine, five minutes after he has left, a half dozen people come along and snatch the wreath bare of flowers--not for any personal motive of sentiment, a remembrance of the day--but to sell to passing motorists or in front of the grocery for profit. Imagine, too, that in their fervor, they trample the graves, knock over the monument, and tear up the grass.
We can say that it would never happen in Arlington National Cemetery, and it wouldn't. An armed honor guard is there around the clock to make sure that it doesn't happen. The Tomb of the Unknowns is safe and so is most of the remainder of the cemetery, regularly patrolled by National Parks Police. However, the same cannot be said for smaller cemeteries around the country.
Every year veterans' groups, the boy scouts, and other service organizations spend hundreds of man hours cleaning and repairing headstones and grave markers in some of these smaller cemeteries. Year long projects fund the materials necessary to make these repairs and to purchase small American flags to decorate the graves. The flags are meant to be in place for a week; the repairs to the headstones and markers, a good deal longer. Unfortunately, almost before their work is complete, vandals move in and undo their work. They knock over the headstones, spray paint them and the grave markers with gang signs and obsenities and lay waste to the landscaping.
Well, what do the dead care; they're dead? True, but a cemetery is not there for the dead except to receive their bodies. It is there for the living--the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, children and the generations that come after of those who have died. It is a place where they may go to feel closer to those they have lost. It is not, therefore, victimless fun or merely disrespectful. Vandalism of graves is a purpetration of emotional harm against the living.
And, nearly as objectionable is the theft of the flag from the grave sites. Why? We would not deny a visitor to a grave, the taking away of a flower from a grave blanket or the flag as a remembrance. Taken singly, it represents the presence of someone who cared for the dead. They came to honor, to remember, to pray, to share. However, the wholesale removal of the flags from graves can have no other motive than personal profit. Stolen, they are then resold--perhaps as memoribilia for Independence Day. It isn't a matter of inconveniencing the service organizations that set out the flags each year. It is a matter that these graves are undressed and, with the undressing, the respect those who died in service to this country are due is stolen. It is a theft of Memorial Day.
How do we stop the theft? Perhaps, it is time we returned to the main purpose of observing Memorial Day. Yes, it was meant to be a day of family coming together. Yes, it was meant to be an ease for the anguish of heart for those who have lost loved ones. But also, it was meant to be a time of community and solemnity. Perhaps, therefore, we should set a watch of the dead with honor and prayer, to watch over them as they watched over us.