Section 60 at Arlington Cemetery: A place for families to grieve, remember

Family members regularly leave items and remembrances at the headstones in Section 60.

There is a somber silence that hangs over Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

It's the final resting place for the soldiers who gave their lives during campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan; a place where the loss is most fresh, the emotions are still raw and the rows of marble bear the names of the most recent servicemen to lose their lives while on duty.

Section 60 is not just a place for the fallen, though. It's also a memorial for the living.

"It's a new cultural norm; a new way in which our nation is grieving," Rod Gainer, the curator at the Army Center for Military History, said. "It has to be captured in some way."

One headstone in Section 60 is covered in lipstick kisses. Another is adorned in hearts. Many are covered in photos. In row after row, memories are left behind.

It's something that has never really happened before in the military; there never had been a place where people were leaving mementos behind. The military decided they couldn't just throw them away, either, so Gainer and Steve Carney, the center's historian, come out every week to collect the trinkets left behind.

They catalogue the items left at the graves, each one having a real, tangible link to the fallen service member. For instance, they once came across a handmade book written to a soldier by a daughter to her father, who didn't make it home to play with her again.

"These can be heartrending," Carney said. "The stuff from the families is always really tough."

With the blessings of virtually every family in Section 60, the items collected every week are kept at an archive center in Virginia. The hope is that, one day, they will be part of an exhibit that helps tell the story of parents gone before they met their children, of heroes who sacrificed so others could live in, and of families who carried on but never forgot.