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National Cemeteries, National Treasures

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dereck W. Rickman, Ygnacio “Nash” Flores and Tracy E. Rickman
November 6, 2021

Flags line the streets, and the early morning sunlight shines on the grass as the morning’s dew sparkles in a welcome to a new day. Flowers left by visitors provide a colorful accent to those driving by. As far as the eye can see, manicured fields and space welcome visitors. What does this describe? If you thought of our national cemeteries, you are correct. A place where our nation’s veterans never die. Rows of markers and columns of names, coupled with respectful silence, provide a distinct reminder of the sacredness of the ground. Collectively, the cemetery facilitates a somber reflection of who we are and the cost of what we have.

George Santayana’s statement of, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” lives in national cemeteries. 151 national cemeteries enshrine the remains, memories and exploits of those that sacrificed their lives for the American way of life. The legacy of those that served lives on, as loved ones keep in mind what they did to earn the right to be forever laid to rest in sacred places of honor. The cemeteries are designed with purpose. The lawns are manicured, and plants trimmed with care. Visitors feel at peace and have comfort in knowing cemetery caretakers take the time to care for the loved ones that rest in eternity.

The public should consider visiting a national cemetery. The investment in national cemeteries manifests the gratitude the country has for the deeds of those named on the tombstones and columns. It is hard not to be awestruck when visiting a national cemetery. These hallowed grounds, preserved forever, continue to grow as many cemeteries have reached full capacity. In their wake are cemeteries with the potential to expand as volunteers continue to see service as a civic and honorable duty.

National Cemeteries chronicle the service of Americans from the civil war to recent conflicts and actions. Additionally, the tombstones serve as a reminder of the horrors of war and conflict. Besides the sacrifice made by those interned, surviving veterans are haunted by the memories of lost friends and events they will never forget. The stories of many interned veterans are unknown, as those knowing of their deeds find it difficult and painful to discuss their exploits with loved ones and friends.

National cemeteries provide much more than just one story for each marker; they provide a community of service that confirms the dedication, sacrifice, fortitude and willingness to put others above self. National cemeteries are a place of peace and reflection as veterans heal from the battle-scared youth of yesterday. Taking the younger generation to a national cemetery provides a visual lesson in the sacrifices made by those in the military. A visit to a national cemetery is a history class in the boldness and sacrifice of the nation’s citizenry.

Visiting our fallen heroes in the national shrines provides a stark reminder of the turmoil and conflict of our history. Headstones give a narrative to the many stories that seem similar, yet each monument is a narration of unique missions accomplished by those serving our country. From the most senior General to the newest and youngest enlisted person, one cannot help but think about who these people were and who they loved. Loss is not void of humor. Many an epitaph reflects the satire the fallen exhibited in life. The closeness of loved ones who knew the inner fabric of a family or friend, now lost, is noticeable. Honoring the legacy of our fallen is highly encouraged. Without the courage and sacrifice of these men and women, we might not know the freedom we have today.

Visiting the national cemeteries does not have to be on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. It can happen any day. Gravesites adorned with flags and flowers left by loved ones remind us that “Freedom Isn’t Free.” There is a cost. The bloodshed by these men and women was given for our freedoms today. We are forever in their debt.

The Veteran Affairs (VA) prioritizes giving veterans and eligible family members a dignified burial. As part of their services to our country, they receive a headstone and plot of land free of charge for their sacrifice—a small token of our gratitude.


Author: Dereck W Rickman served in IRAQ, and currently works for the VA, Arlington National Cemetery. Dr. Tracy E Rickman is a professor at Tarleton State University and a Veteran of the United States Air Force. Dr. Ygnacio “Nash” Flores is on the faculty at Rio Hondo College and a Navy veteran.

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