The History Shaping Memorial Services for Fallen Service Members

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Washington Post


In September 2021, at least thirteen families are going to gather to mourn the deaths of young troops killed by a suicide bomber at a Kabul airport gate. President Biden stood at Dover Air Force Base when their flag-draped coffins arrived. He’s not the first, of course. Presidents have been part of the national mourning of the war dead. The tradition of the government taking on the responsibility of burying the war dead and operating national cemeteries dates to the Civil War. Joe Biden is heir to both tradition and necessity that started with Abraham Lincoln, whose most famous speech was to dedicate such a cemetery. This article examines that tradition and the ways it shapes our views of what those burials and spaces look like.

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Jeffrey Smith is senior professor of history at Lindenwood University and author of “The Rural Cemetery Movement: Places of Paradox in Nineteenth-Century America.”


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