Things matter to military families that are unique to military families. One such thing is Arlington National Cemetery, and I had started looking into the requirements for burial there several months ago at the behest of someone else. Arlington is filling up, and is an extremely busy place.
At Arlington National Cemetery one recent Friday, there were four funerals scheduled at 9 a.m., three at 10 a.m., six at 11 a.m., and 15 between 1 and 3 p.m.
The nation’s shrine to its military dead had 6,785 funerals in the just-concluded fiscal year, an all-time record. Now, as the dying of the World War II generation peaks, the cemetery is so busy that despite careful choreography, people attending one funeral can hear the bugle and rifle salutes echoing from another.
I have routinely criticized failures in strategy and tactics, medical care (post-Walter Reed, i.e., local care for the warrior), and various and sundry other things. So what is going on with Arlington, and are they planning for the future of our National Cemetery? It is nice to be able to comment on good planning and foresight.
As a result, the cemetery is about to begin a $35 million expansion that would push the ordered ranks of tombstones beyond its borders for the first time since the 1960s …
The Millennium expansion has involved, among other things, the sensitive transfer of 12 acres within the cemetery from the National Park Service’s historic Arlington House, the onetime home of Robert E. Lee. The Park Service has lamented the likely loss of woodland and the cemetery’s encroachment on the majestic hilltop home, which dates to 1802.
The project, which focuses on the northwest edge of the cemetery in Arlington, Va., includes expansion into about 10 acres taken from the Army’s adjacent Fort Myer and four acres of cemetery maintenance property inside the boundaries, officials said.
The extra space would provide room for 14,000 ground burials and 22,000 inurnments in a large columbarium complex, officials said. The project comes on the heels of extensive work underway to utilize 40 acres of unused space in the cemetery, creating room for 26,000 more graves and 5,000 inurnments. And there are plans for further outside expansion in the years ahead …
The expansions are, in part, a response to the deaths of members of the country’s World War II generation, about 16 million of whom served in the armed forces.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says more than 3 million World War II veterans are alive. About 1,000 die each day.
The department’s National Cemetery Administration says the number of veteran deaths is peaking, at about 680,000 annually, and is expected to fall gradually to 671,000 in 2010, 622,000 in 2015, and 562,000 in 2020 …
At Arlington, which is run by the Army, the steady death toll from Iraq and Afghanistan has added to the numbers, although the cemetery gets about 11 percent of those cases. More than 400 members of the armed forces who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan have been buried there.
Arlington cemetery officials said they are aware of the trends.
“We want Arlington National Cemetery to be available for veterans into the future,” said cemetery superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. “We don’t want to close it down. Arlington is our nation’s national cemetery.”
“Part of my job is to look out 100 years,” Metzler said. He wanted to be sure that “we’re never out of grave space, we’re never down to that critical five-year window where we have nothing on the books” that would keep the cemetery open …
The project is expected to unfold over the next 10 years with funding hoped for from Congress.
Metzler said the projects should keep the cemetery open through about 2060.
This is an example of good planning and concern for the warrior of not only the past and present, but also the future. Kudos to the responsible people. If they need assistance in the planning or execution of this plan, I offer my unremunerated assistance to the folks at Arlington.