Anyone who has dealt with bureaucracy can attest that it’s not always driven by common sense.
The Roseburg National Cemetery has a maintenance plan built on good intentions. Its crews aim to keep the grounds spruced up by regular mowing and ensuring that floral tributes don’t wither for weeks on graves.
However, tidiness trumped sensitivity last month when workers were too quick to remove flowers and other decorations placed by family members to mark Memorial Day.
Unlike Veterans Day, the Fourth of July and Flag Day, Memorial Day has an observed and a traditional date that don’t always coincide. There can be a span of several days between the last Monday of the month, when the government observes Memorial Day, and May 30, the date chosen back in the 1860s when the occasion was still known as Decoration Day.
Probably none of this was on the mind of Bob Bright 12 days ago as he traveled from his home in Myrtle Point to the Roseburg National Cemetery. Bright bore flowers for the grave of his son, U.S. Army Pfc. Dean Robert Bright, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 at the age of 32.
As he entered the cemetery grounds, Bright was stricken by what he didn’t see there. All the markers, including his son’s, were bare of flowers and mementos.
It didn’t take Bright long to find out that maintenance crews had cleared the grounds on May 29 for mowing. Among those Bright contacted to express his anger was the cemetery’s director.
The VA Roseburg Healthcare System does not oversee the cemetery, which is one of 147 in the nation. All but 16 of them fall under the supervision of the National Cemetery Administration. The Roseburg cemetery is under the direction of Ted Travers, who is based in Eagle Point.
Travers told The News-Review last week he agreed the mowing in Roseburg could have waited a day, and it will wait a day next year. However, May 30 will fall on Friday in 2014, meaning the actual Memorial Day will still find graves bare of tributes.
That doesn’t satisfy Bright or his son’s mother, Norma Lane of Sutherlin. They believe maintenance crews ought to be able to find a way to work around the flowers. It’s disrespectful to do otherwise, they say.
It makes sense that a government-run institution would want to turn to schedules and rules that make their jobs more efficient. It’s unlikely that their policies are drawn up with any intention of dishonoring any of the 3.7 million people buried in the VA’s national cemeteries. And we appreciate efforts to make the cemetery look worthy of its’ occupants’ legacies.
But it’s also understandable why relatives of the deceased would be pained at a too-rigorous application of certain rules. There are a handful of calendar dates set aside to honor those whose families miss them daily. If a parent derives comfort from the sight of a bouquet of roses against a headstone for a few extra days each year, that seems to be worth a few adjustments to the mowing schedule.
Military precision can be taken too far.