by Spencer Howard
Visitors to the gravesite of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover are often struck by its dignified simplicity. Two ledger stones of Vermont white marble mark their resting place, inscribed only with their names and life dates. No epitaph records their achievements or honors. Located at the top of a small rise known as “the overlook,” the gravesite is surrounded by a semi-circle of carefully trimmed shrubs, with a 25-foot bronze flagpole at the focal point from which an American flag flies at all times. Near the base of the flagpole is a small bronze medallion, the only symbol or device to be seen near the graves.
Few visitors recognize the symbol, though its military iconography is readily apparent. The medallion depicts the emblem of the veterans organization Army and Navy Union, USA. The ANU was founded in 1886, was chartered by Congress, and still exists, but is not very well known outside Ohio and surrounding states, where most of its remaining garrisons are located. The ANU was the first, and is therefore the oldest, veterans organization open to all veterans, regardless of when or where they served. In the center of the emblem are the initials ANU interlocked with an ampersand. The six lobes around the outside represent the military branches as interpreted in the 1880s; clockwise from the top are the Corps of Engineers, Cavalry, Navy, Infantry, Marine Corps, and Artillery.
Herbert Hoover was granted Life Membership by the ANU in 1954 on the basis of his service during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1899, Hoover was working as a mining engineer in China when the Boxer Rebellion broke out. Trapped in the siege of Tientsin, Hoover volunteered as a civilian to guide the multinational relief force through the local terrain.
A few weeks after Herbert Hoover was laid to rest in the fall of 1964, representatives of the ANU contacted the Hoover Library offering to provide an ANU marker for Hoover’s gravesite. Their initial proposal was for a chrome plated medallion or small flag bracket, to be embedded in a concrete base near the grave. The gravesite had not yet been landscaped, but the plans had already been drawn up by William Wagner, an Iowa architect who had designed the Library-Museum and other nearby structures. Wagner and the Hoover family were concerned that a stand-alone memorial would detract from the simplicity of the gravesite. Wagner suggested a compromise — affixing a bronze medallion to the planned flagpole, where it would be in a prominent place of honor but blend in with the design.
This proposal was eagerly accepted, and in the spring of 1965, when the gravesite was landscaped and the flagpole installed, the ANU medallion was attached and has remained there ever since.