Arlington National Cemetery is expanding by 60 acres to make room to receive another generation of honored dead

Sunday February 17, 2002

Yet the nation's most famous cemetery is subject to the march of history, and no one can say how many rows of white headstones will be needed by midcentury.

Workers felt the grounds tremble September 11, 2001, when a hijacked airliner smashed into the Pentagon just beyond the cemetery fence. Sixty-five of those killed have joined Arlington's ranks.

“We can't look at what may happen, whether or not there will be a war or disaster,” said Superintendent Jack Metzler, in charge of finding room for the dead of the future. “We just deal with it when it happens.”

Cemetery planners rely on demographics and topography to predict that the expansion will add 35 years to the life of Arlington cemetery, allowing it to accept fallen warriors until 2060.

There should be room enough for 350,000 more veterans, dignitaries and unforeseen heroes, an average of 6,000 per year.

As millions of World War II's fighters age, burials are expected to increase annually over the next five or six years, covering large swaths of land before tapering off again.

Most World War II veterans will not end up at Arlington, even if they meet the strict eligibility requirements. But those who do would help fill the cemetery by 2025 if it stayed at last year's size of 612 acres.

So Arlington has begun its first growth since the 1960s. Last month, the National Park Service turned over 12 acres of woodland behind the historic home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which is at the heart of the cemetery.

Congress also has approved putting graves on almost 50 more adjacent acres, already owned by the military, by the end of the decade.

The biggest chunk will come when offices sitting on a hill next to the Pentagon, called the Navy Annex,
are torn down. An Air Force memorial also is planned for that site.

Already, 275,000 people rest at Arlington. They include presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, Supreme Court justices, the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, polar explorer Richard Byrd, boxer Joe Louis, and veterans of every war the United States has fought.

One of the simple marble gravestones marks the body of CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann, who on November 25, 2001, became the first American to die at enemy hands in Afghanistan.

Forty-nine victims of terrorism are buried together on a far edge of the cemetery, within sight of the scarred Pentagon. The wind carries with it the clangs of construction from the huge building's repairs.

Only the “September 11, 2001” date of death distinguishes them from the gravestones of a handful of World
War II veterans that flank them.

Others were buried near family members or their ashes were placed in the columbarium. Placement of the 65th marker, for a Navy man among five people whose remains could not be identified, is scheduled for March 11.

In all, 189 people died when the hijacked airliner struck the Pentagon. Many were civilians not eligible for Arlington burial.

One received a waiver from the Army for Arlington burial — the pilot of the hijacked plan, Charles Burlingame.

With space at a premium, burials are normally reserved for active duty personnel, military retirees, retired reservists who reach age 60, winners of the military's highest decorations, and former prisoners of war. Their spouses also qualify.

So do all presidents, as well as high government officials with past military service.

Other veterans who served on active duty can have their ashes inurned in the columbarium.

Congress is considering legislation to allow other veterans like Burlingame, a retired Naval Reserve captain who had not yet reached age 60, to be buried at Arlington.

But the Army, which oversees Arlington, opposes changes that would use up space more quickly.

Veterans groups have long pushed for more land. Bob Manhan, an Army retiree now working for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, says he wants the cemetery to keep making room, whatever may come.

“Maybe 100 years from now if no one's visiting my grave site, a new family can be buried above me,” said Manhan, 69. “I don't know how, but I hope it can remain an active cemetery. I've buried so many friends there.”

New Land Expands Arlington Cemetery's Burial Space

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2002 — The Departments of the Interior and the Army have released 26 acres of land to make room for more graves and a new columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Officials have expressed concern for several years that the ballooning number of dying World War II veterans would fill the cemetery to capacity by 2025.

Jack Metzler, cemetery superintendent at Arlington, said there are about 6,000 burials at Arlington each year, but only about 2,200 are into new graves.

“Husbands and wives are put with their spouses into existing graves, and ashes are placed into the columbarium,” he said, explaining the remaining 3,800 burials.

He said the number of burials in Arlington will continue to increase until 2008, “when we expect World War II veterans' deaths to peak.”

The 26 acres released in January are on the northwest corner of the cemetery. The land includes 12 acres that aren't being used, four acres of warehouse area, and about 10 acres of land that currently are used as a picnic area on Fort Myer. The three parcels are adjacent to each other and will be developed beginning in 2007 to make them suitable for burials, Metzler explained.

He said the cemetery's routine capacity is about 800 graves per acre. On newly acquired land that's too hilly for graves, cemetery officials plan to build a columbarium for cremated remains, he added. The size of the columbarium hasn't been set yet.

Cemetery officials will begin in 2003 to develop another 40 acres along the cemetery's eastern border. Metzler explained what it will take to develop land to make it suitable for burials.

“We have to address the drainage issue,” he said. “For years, water (mostly storm runoff) has been running unchecked in there.” He also said workers would need to remove a stone fence, clear small trees and bushes, plant grass and add roads and utilities.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment