Memorial Day Weekend is upon us and although for many it is just a long weekend, now is the time to remember what Memorial Day is really about. This article takes a quick look at the history of Memorial Day and the scope of maintenance care that each National Cemetery needs to have so future generations can remember the sacrifices made for their freedom.

To be clear, Memorial day is a day of remembrance for those men and women who have died serving in the armed forces. From 1776 – 2012 over 40,000,000 people have served in the U.S. military including the 1.4 million still serving today.

The idea to celebrate the valor of so many arose shortly after the Civil War ended. A day was originally proclaimed as Decoration Day with the intent of decorating soldier’s graves with flowers. It was not until 1971 that Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and set on the last Monday in May.

“Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.”

Source: Moina Michael

National Cemeteries

Our nation’s National Cemeteries are managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA’s National Cemetery Administration maintains 131 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

The most famous of National Cemeteries is Arlington National Cemetery located in Arlington, Virginia. Unlike the other cemeteries, Arlington National Cemetery is maintained by the U.S. Department of the Army.

Maintaining our national cemeteries so that the public can visit and decorate a loved one’s grave is not without challenges. In 2010, Arlington’s superintendent was reprimanded for a series of unfortunate events plus faced allegations of dysfunctional management, a lack of procedures and policies and essentially running a chaotic organization.

In addition, almost every government organization has faced round after round of budget cutbacks that has limited their ability to staff accordingly, obtain the proper tools and perform proper proactive maintenance.

National Cemetery Maintenance

Cemeteries may seem simple to care for but they are very labor intensive and make use of a variety of assets including backhoes, shovels, canopies, industrial mowers, trimmers, casket lowering devices, carriages, lifts, crypts, grave covers, grave markers, crematories, facilities, gift shops, roadways, signs, parking areas, storage sheds, fuel depots, lighting and so on.

The larger the cemetery, the greater the need for organization and coordination of activities. Without good organization, a limited labor force is virtually forced into reactive maintenance and repairs. Reactive maintenance is the one of the worst things that can happen to a cemetery.

Reactive maintenance increases the costs of operations because equipment breaks down more frequently and is less energy efficient. It also increases labor costs to cover the ever growing number of emergency repairs. If the repairs cannot be done then a part of the grounds may become unusable, unsafe and unkempt.

One of the solutions for cemetery managers is to employ the use of Computerized Maintenance Management Software(CMMS). CMMS provides cemetery maintenance teams with automated processes for handling work management as well as scheduling tools to ensure that all work is being done and is accounted for.

By using CMMS, cemetery managers will find that they now have a tool that can track the location, description, condition and work history of each individual asset. This enables cemetery management to plan maintenance such as inspections and preventive maintenance on assets that require constant care.

Perhaps the most critical advantage of using a cemetery CMMS is that it enables the cemetery to accomplish more work with the same amount of staff. The extra work being done can be used to reduce the backlog of work orders and help establish sound proactive maintenance policies and procedures.

How will you show appreciation for the fallen? Will you place a poppy on a grave or just fire up the BBQ? As for me, I am heading up to the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell to place a flower on my father’s site. RIP to the best dad ever.