Arlington Cemetery Running Out of Burial Space

NGAUS Washington Report
March 13, 2018

Arlington National Cemetery will not have burial space for an Operation Desert Storm veteran who reaches his or her normal life expectancy, the executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries told a congressional panel last week.

Karen Durham-Aguilera used that example to point out the severe limitations faced by the nation’s most honored ground for burial of its military veterans.  More than 7,000 burials took place there last year and only about 100,000 burial sites remain at the 154-year old cemetery, reported Military Times, which covered the House Armed Services Committee hearing.

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“We are filling up every single day,” she said. “Within the next few years, Section 60, known for recent wars, will be closed. This is on my mind every day.”

Plans to expand the 624-acre cemetery will push the availability to the 2040s, but the problems come after that. One suggestion is to tighten qualifications for burial at Arlington, which now allow most honorably discharged veterans to be buried there. Some suggest limiting the honor to troops killed in battle and veterans who have received the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart or some other distinction.

Representatives from several veterans organizations, like the Air Force Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Military Officers Association of America, told the lawmakers that eligibility requirements should not be changed because many living veterans have burial at Arlington in their plans.

Expansion is limited by the suburbs of northern Virginia on one side and the Potomac River on the other. One suggestion from some veterans groups is to open another cemetery near the nation’s capital and call it Arlington, as well. But there is little support for that.

An advisory committee studying the eligibility issue is expected to make recommendations to Congress by the end of the year.  

The cemetery began as an overflow burial site during the Civil War on land owned by the family of Gen. Robert E. Lee. It is the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the graves of President William Howard Taft and President John F. Kennedy.

Other distinguished Americans buried at Arlington include Gen. John J. Pershing, World War II hero Audie Murphy, Gen. Omar Bradley, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Gen. George C. Marshall, and Bill Mauldin, the Stars and Stripes cartoonist during World War II.

More than 3 million people visit the cemetery each year.