ARLINGTON, Va. - Unlike earlier wars, nearly all Arlington National Cemetery gravestones for troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan are inscribed with the slogan-like operation names the Pentagon selected to promote public support for the conflicts.
Families of fallen soldiers and Marines are being told they have the option to have the government-furnished headstones engraved with “Operation Enduring Freedom” or “ Operation Iraqi Freedom” at no extra charge, whether they are buried in Arlington or elsewhere. A mock-up shown to many families includes the operation names.
The vast majority of military gravestones from other eras are inscribed with just the basic, required information : name, rank, military branch, date of death and, if applicable, the war and foreign country in which the person served.
Families are supposed to have final approval over what goes on the tombstones. That hasn’t always happened.
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.”
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 Pentagon in the late 1980s began selecting operation names with themes that would help generate public support for conflicts.
Gregory C. Sieminski, an Army officer writing in a 1995 Army War College publication, said the Pentagon decision to call the 1989 invasion of Panama “Operation Just Cause” initiated a trend of naming operations “with an eye toward shaping domestic and international perceptions about the activities they describe.”
The families should be able to choose whatever they want for the gravestones. The Pentagon shouldn’t encourage particular slogans about the war.