Troops’ Gravestones Have Operation Names
The latest controversy of the Iraq War is rather thin indeed: the Veterans’ Administration is offering the families of fallen soldiers the option of putting the operations name on their tombstones free of charge.
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.
“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 Department of Veterans Affairs says it isn’t. “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,” VA official Steve Muro said.
Since 1997, the government has been paying for virtually everything inscribed on the gravestones. Before that, families had to pay the gravestone makers separately for any inscription beyond the basics.
It wasn’t until the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that the department instructed national cemetery directors and funeral homes across the country to advise families of fallen soldiers and Marines that they could have operation names like “Enduring Freedom” or “Iraqi Freedom” included on the headstones.
VA officials say neither the Pentagon nor White House exerted any pressure to get families to include the operation names. They say families always had the option of including information like battle or operation names, but didn’t always know it.
Earlier wars had obvious names unassociated with an operation name. If one put “World War II” on the tombstone, one didn’t need to include “Market Garden” or whatever other operation cost the soldier’s life. Ditto “Korea” or “Vietnam.”
Recent wars have had no such obvious label. The 1991 war to liberate Kuwait is generally known by the operational name “Desert Storm” or sometimes “The Gulf War.”
I tend to think of the current op in Iraq as, “The Iraq War” but there have actually been many of those, including the one I participated in in 1991. Ditto “Afghanistan,” which has been the site of many conflicts. The operational name is perhaps the best label.
To the extent this is controversial, it is that we are using silly propagandistic names to begin with. But that is not an invention of the Bush Adminstration.