Arlington offers life lessons

Published 10:36 am Thursday, April 24, 2014

In the 40-plus years since my paternal grandparents passed away, I have often wondered about the status of Shiloh Cemetery, which was nestled on the hilltop above their humble farmhouse.

Recently, my hometown newspaper, the Marshall County (Tenn.) Tribune, brought me up to date. Decades of neglect, weather and wandering cattle have left Shiloh Cemetery (not to be confused with the graveyard at Shiloh National Military Park) in a shambles, with broken headstones and no way to identify most of the approximately 70 people buried there.

The sad fate of Shiloh Cemetery (final resting place of civilians, Confederate veterans and one Revolutionary War veteran) makes it all the more meaningful that we have a well-maintained treasure such as Arlington National Cemetery, which celebrates its 150th anniversary with special events in May and June.

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Ideally, one would have the time, money and health to visit the historic site this year, and see the eternal flame at the grave of President Kennedy or the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. (Read more online at Failing that, there are other ways to mark the sesquicentennial — and not just the perennials of “thank a veteran, write to active military personnel and exercise your hard-won right to vote.”

Perhaps late spring 2014 is a good time to tone down the over-the-top rhetoric. It cheapens the sacrifices of our war casualties and deceased veterans when every social trend you dislike is a “war on fill-in-the-blank,” and when every policymaker you disagree with is a “Hitler.”

Signs scattered around Arlington request “Silence and Respect.” Would it be asking too much that we turn down the volume on our teeth-rattling car stereos, refrain from gratuitous public profanity, “measure twice and cut once” before speaking ill of another person and carve out five minutes a day for noise-free, self-respecting contemplation?

As we contemplate Arlington and death (the Great Equalizer), we should try to ditch our prejudices, stereotypes and hang-ups. American military teamwork should make us realize that life is too short to spend it envying the rich or exploiting the poor, dismissing all Yankees as know-it-alls or regarding all Southerners as illiterate racists, etc.

The military personnel buried at Arlington had to learn discipline in maneuvers and maintenance of their equipment. Perhaps we could reboot our New Year’s resolutions and discipline ourselves to wear a seatbelt, use our vehicle turn signal, floss daily, push back from the table, walk the extra steps to the recycling bin, elect leaders who keep us prepared for war (but eager for peace) or otherwise help ourselves and our great nation.

Certainly Shiloh is not the only cemetery suffering from families who die out or move away and younger generations who have different priorities. Ask some questions and track down abandoned or neglected graveyards in your own neck of the woods that cry out for cash, elbow grease and genealogical expertise.

Some may view respect for the dead as yesterday’s news or throwing good money after bad and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Respect for those at Arlington and elsewhere serves the past, present and future. We can learn from the past, gain a feeling of accomplishment in the present (“I’m tired, but it’s a GOOD tired”) and set a positive example for the young not to treat us as disposable when we’re no longer “productive.”


Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”