The latest partisan fight-fest seems to be over President Obama’s decision to spend the weekend in Chicago rather than visiting Arlington to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

From the Chicago Herald:

“According to a White House official, the Obamas will arrive Thursday and stay until Monday, when Obama will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. The veterans’ cemetery is about 50 miles south of Chicago.”

As the wife of a soldier who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – and who performed hundreds of funeral details at Arlington when he was a soldier in the Old Guard – I’m having difficulty sympathizing with those citing this decision as yet another example of Obama’s supposed lack of patriotism / lack of respect for the troops.

Veterans are buried in special sections of cemeteries across the country. The dead veterans whose Arlington plots are marked by uniform tombstones are no more special than those buried in the same uniform tombstones in the cemetery in Chicago. Or the cemetery in your town. They all joined the service, they all did what they were called to do, and they’re all dead, now.

Arlington is symbolic, yes. But what’s more important – Obama visiting a symbol, a cemetery he’s expected to visit because everyone else has, or Obama visiting a cemetery where veterans are buried?

Does it matter how big or how small the cemetery is? Does it matter what the cemetery is called?

I think it does matter how big the cemetery is, and I think the smaller, the better. As someone who was in favor of Obama’s election, I wanted to make sure I was being objective, so I thought, “What if this weren’t Memorial Day, but instead a special holiday marking the Suffrage Movement? What if we had a female president, and there were a famous, hugely symbolic monument to those who rallied – and even experienced torture – as part of the Suffrage Movement, and she didn’t visit? What if, instead, she visited some small factory in some no-name town where a unit of women, largely forgotten because their names aren’t on the big monument, had also shown their support of the movement?”

I decided I would rather she visit the small factory in the no-name town. Those women in that no-name town would have done just as much for their movement as the others, but their names would have been forgotten, their activism unrecognized.

This is how I feel about Obama’s visit to the cemetery in Chicago. Not only does it show support for the dedicated soldiers of his hometown, but it’s somehow more sincere than making the expected trip to the expected cemetery to satisfy other people’s expectations.

If I had a family member buried in a veteran’s section of a cemetery somewhere other than Arlington, I might – after scores of presidential visits to that one, symbolic, cemetery – start to feel like none of the “little guys” who weren’t buried at Arlington matter.

The dead at Arlington are hardly forgotten – unlike the poor suckers buried across the street from where I live in their veteran plots no one visits, where no one sells their Vietnam paintings, where no statues or sculptures mark their sacrifice.

I invite you to join (or “like”) the facebook page I created and to post your own pictures of showing appreciation (not the partying kind) this Memorial Day.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Good post, Kristen. I hadn’t heard about this kerfluffle, but I think this is the perfect response to it.

    Reply
  2. I have relatives buried in both Arlington (including my uncle who was a U.S. Senator and Representative) and in other, smaller National/Veterans cemeteries. While I appreciate your views, especially as the wife of a soldier, I have to disagree with them. There are certain things that are traditions for a reason. To me, this yearly visit was one of them and it was a day and ceremony/visit that always touched every member of my family. Arlington is not just a resting place for some of our most treasured. It is a symbol of this Nation and the sacrifices many have made. I will always support any president we have but I will not always support these decisions.

    My family visits our local cemeteries at least once a year. I have relatives that served all the way back to the Revolutionary War. It hurts MORE that our president turned his back on a comforting tradition. Arlington represents thousands of smaller places and many, many men and women. You don’t have to be buried there to fall under that umbrella.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

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