NGAUS Washington Report
May 29, 2018
The National Park Service is discouraging family members and friends from leaving cremated human remains at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Bob Herendeen, a ranger with the park service, told National Public Radio that he and other rangers are finding scattered ashes—cremains—more often as the Vietnam War generation ages and dies in increasing numbers.
“You realize on the one hand that this was somebody’s last wish to have their remains placed here on the wall,” he said. “The law does not allow us to do that, so we have to follow protocol, clean up the ash and remove it. It has to go into a hazardous waste disposal.”
A sign was erected at the memorial last fall telling visitors that scattering human remains is prohibited. It makes clear that the ashes will not become part of the memorial’s permanent collection. The same warning is on the memorial’s website.
Since the memorial’s dedication in 1982, visitors have placed personal items at the base of the wall, which holds 58,318 names of people killed or missing from the war. Medals, dog tags, photos and other items are taken to the Museum Resource Center in Landover, Maryland. Containers that hold ashes are also taken to the center, but they are not placed in the permanent collection.
Janet Folkerts, a curator for the collection, says the remains are people and “we are not a mausoleum, and we are not a crematorium or a gravesite, so we don’t have the capacity to take care of them in the way they should be taken care of.”
The National Park Service is currently at a loss as to what to do with containers holding the human remains. It wants to find an honorable and dignified final resting place for them, but is in a difficult position.
Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, says the service’s rangers or curators should not be making that decision.
“It’s a decision—the final resting place for a loved one—that should be made by the families,” he said.