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Repairing sacred ground
By Ayla Kremen
Courtesy of the Washington Times
August 4, 2006

Most visitors to the Arlington National Cemetery, where officials are deciding whether to fix the deepening cracks on the Tomb of the Unknowns, said yesterday that the white marble memorial should be left alone

"It gives it more character the way it is," said Aoife McEvoi, 22, a visitor from Ireland. "It shows it's authentic."

Cemetery officials have four options -- to do nothing, to patch up the cracks, to replace the monument or buy an extra marble block and store it as a standby if the tomb continues to deteriorate. Officials are taking public comments through Sunday via postal mail and plan to choose an option by next month.

Tomb of the Unknowns Cracks

The majority of the nearly 200 comments the cemetery has received are in favor of replacing the tomb, said Lori Calvillo, public affairs officer for Arlington National Cemetery.

"The majority of them say to replace the monument, but it's not a clear winner," she said. "We'll officially review all of the comments on [August] sixth, but we're just judging them as they come in. After that, the superintendent [of the project] will look over them more closely."

The cemetery is required to ask for public opinion on the monument under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, but cemetery officials ultimately can choose what they want to do. The superintendent will use the comments as a guide to make his decision.

The most noticeable crack is through the middle of the monument.

Replacing the monument would take about a year and could cost up to $1 million. The tomb would be closed to the public for about two weeks, officials have said.

Filling the cracks would be cheaper and quicker but might not solve the problem.

The tomb has been patched repeatedly, most recently in 1989.

Although most of the written comments supported the replacement of the monument, the majority of tourists who visited the tomb yesterday thought that changing the monument would ruin its sanctity.

Beneath the marble structure is a crypt holding the remains of three unidentified servicemen killed in the two world wars and the Korean War.

"They should leave the monument alone," said Chrystal Beadle, 42, of Texas. "It's a tomb, and you don't want to disturb it."

Others blamed the deepening fissures on the tomb's old age. The tomb was completed and opened to the public April 9, 1932, at a cost of $48,000, according to the cemetery.

"The cracks are just a part of life, like everything else," said Rosie Patterson, 48, of Illinois. "Trees get old, stone gets old, monuments get old, too. Everything gets old, and it'd be a waste of money to replace it."

Bob Batton, 33, of Michigan agreed. "They should leave the monument alone because it has stood the test of time already," he said.

    Still others thought the monument should be fixed immediately.

"That's so horrible; they should definitely fix it," said Mary Shutt, 43, of Lansing, Michigan. "They spend millions of tax dollars every year, so why not use that money to fix something like this? If they can have one of those soldiers walk back and forth in front of the monument all day, they can definitely fix the cracks in the monument, no problem."

Some said it would be all right to do no more than fill the cracks.

"I don't think it's meant to be disturbed," said Mary Peat, 54, of California. "Filling in the cracks would be OK, but replacing [the monument] would be sacrilegious."

Comments can be sent to Tomb of the Unknowns Project, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA 22211-5003.

Posted 5 August 2006