Arlington National Cemetery:  Part II

“Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.”     Daniel Webster


 By:  Marv Rodney

In the July 2012 issue of ENDEAVOR, an historic perspective on the origin of Arlington National Cemetery was presented. This article will discuss some of the major sections and burial criteria at the cemetery.

Arlington National CThe Custis-Lee Mansion at Arlington National Cemeteryemetery, or simply Arlington to all who live near-bye, is a military cemetery established in 1864 during the Civil War.  It is both the most hallowed burial ground of our Nation’s fallen and one of the most visited tourist sites in the Washington, DC area.  The grounds of Arlington National Cemetery honor those who have served our nation and their families with a sense of beauty and peace.  The rolling green hills are dotted with trees, some that are older than the cemetery itself, monuments, and gardens throughout its 624 developed acres which contains approximately 400,000 individual grave sites.  The impressive landscape serves as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of all who rest here and the families that visit here.

Approximately 27 funerals are conducted each workday or 6,900 per year providing a final farewell.  In an area of just 624 acres, veterans and military casualties from each of our nation’s wars are interred, ranging from the American Civil War to our current military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900. 

More about Arlington
  • The largest number of burials is performed at the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, New York with more than 7,000 each year.
  • Arlington is administered by the Department of the Army unlike other cemeteries which are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or by the National Park Service which administers Arlington House and its grounds as a memorial to Robert E. Lee.
  • 39 authorized faith emblems are offered for placement on markers
  • Burial criteria: review Part II of Title 32, Code of Federal Regulations which includes info on eligibility for internment (ground burial) or inurnment.
  • Columbarium: a chamber or wall or a niche within that wall in which urns containing the ashes of the dead are stored.
  • Ossuary: an urn or a vault used to hold the bones of the dead.
  • 367 Medal of Honor recipients are buried at Arlington, nine of whom are Canadian. 
  • The Tomb of the Unknows is guarded 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-per year by specially trained members of the 3rd US Infantry also known as The Old Guard.
  • The Memorial Amphitheatre was the scene of General John (Black Jack) Pershing’s funeral.
  • Tomb of the Unknows carved from marble found in Marble, Colorado and mined by the Vermont Mining Company March 24, 1931.

Arlington is divided into 70 sections, with some reserved for future expansion.  Several sections are known for specific dedication such as the “Nurses Section” or Section 21.  Several others include: “Chaplains Hill” which contains monuments to military chaplains; a Confederate section that was authorized by Congress in 1900 and contains the bodies of Confederate soldiers who were buried at the Soldiers’ Home (see ENDEAVOR article on President Lincoln’s Cottage, April 2009) – all Confederate headstones in this section are peaked rather than rounded; and Section 27 where more than 3,800 former slaves, known as Contrabands during the Civil War, are buried with headstones designated with the word Civilian or Citizen

The Veteran’s Administration oversees the Cemetery Administration’s Orders for placement of inscriptions and faith emblems at no charge to the estate of the deceased.   The next of kin submits the information that will be placed on upright marble headstones or columbarium niche covers.  The VA currently offers 39 authorized faith emblems for placement on markers to represent the deceased’s faith – this number has grown in recent years.  Due to limited space, the criteria for ground burial eligibility are more restrictive than at other national cemeteries.  It is slightly less restrictive for inurnment in the columbarium.

The Cemetery has numerous memorials and monuments located within its perimeters, most notably the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns.  These two memorials, together with others selected, will be the subject of future editions of the ENDEAVOR.  Memorials of great interest are the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial; the USS Maine Memorial; the Lockerbie Cairn Memorial; and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial which is located adjacent to the Ceremonial Entrance to the Cemetery.  In 2012, legislation began moving through Congress to approve a Place of Remembrance Memorial which will be an ossuary designed to contain fragments of remains which are unidentifiable through DNA analysis.  The remains will be cremated before placement in the memorial.

The first soldier to be buried in Arlington was Private William H. Christman of Pennsylvania on May 13, 1864.  As of May 2006, there were 367 Medal of Honor recipients resting here, nine of whom are Canadian. 

Five state funerals have been held at Arlington:  those of Presidents William Taft and John F. Kennedy; that of General John J. Pershing; and that of U.S. Senators Robert and Edward M. Kennedy.  Whether or not they were wartime service members, U.S. presidents hold the rank of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services.  Full military honors are naturally afforded this rank.

Among the most frequently visited sites in the cemetery is the grave of President John F. Kennedy who is buried with his wife aThe Eternal Flame over the grave of President John F. Kennedynd two of their children.  His remains were interred at the current site on March 14, 1967, a re-interment from his original Arlington burial site some 20 feet away and remembered by all who lived in November 1963.  The grave is marked with what has become recognized world wide as Kennedy’s eternal flame.  Mrs. Kennedy wished to mark the President’s grave with a symbol that would never be extinguished, much like his memory.

Arlington National Cemetery has not been without controversy.  On June 9, 2010, the Secretary of the Army reprimanded the Cemetery’s superintendent and deputy after a Department of Defense inspector general’s report revealed that cemetery officials had placed the wrong headstones on tombs, buried coffins in shallow graves, and buried bodies on top of one another. 

A subsequent investigation revealed that cemetery employees were burdened in their day to day work by, “dysfunctional management, lack of established policy and procedures, and an overall unhealthy organizational climate.”  As a result of the investigators’ conclusions, Kathryn Condon, the recently appointed Director of the Army Cemeteries Program, announced that the cemetery’s staff had been increased from 102 to 159 and the Army was acquiring additional equipment in order to properly perform their mission to the standards set by the Department of the Army.  All has been quiet since those actions were implemented.  In next quarter’s issue I will discuss the Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns.


The above information was extracted in part from The Official Website of Arlington National Cemetery and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, requires written permission from the ENDEAVOR News Magazine.

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