Return to nature in Arlington

By Private First Class Justin Nieto
Military District of Washington News Service

There are many environmental problems, such as wildfires and pollution, which threaten us, and some seek to counter these in whatever way they can, even in death.

Last year a congressman who led the way to Arlington National Cemetery providing green burials for qualifying veterans completed the journey through burial of his cremated remains in a biodegradable box in a section of the cemetery without grave markers.

The practice is known as a green burial. It is more common in some areas than others.

According to The Natural Death Centre, based in London, there are more than 180 sites, referred to as natural or woodland burial grounds, throughout the United Kingdom, making it the world leader of such burials.

The theme is slowly beginning to work its way outward to other nations such as Australia or elsewhere in Europe.

While these sites appear to be steadily gaining popularity overseas, at least in the United Kingdom, the green burial ‘movement' has begun to see limited action in the United States.

Charles E. Bennett, a former congressman representing Florida's 2nd District, introduced a bill in 1989 that became Public Law 101-237, which states there is to be a certain amount of land set aside within Arlington National cemetery for the internment of cremated remains in an unmarked area, said John Metzler, superintendent for Arlington National Cemetery.

Metzler also said there could be a virtually unlimited amount of remains placed in the area as there will be no grave markers and only biodegradable caskets will be used.

This small area on the north side of the cemetery in Section 27 is now Bennett's final resting place.

Bennett, who was a member of Congress for 44 years, died of natural causes Sept. 6, 2003, at age 92 and was laid to rest in the area his bill created along with Nicholas Marion, the son of an Army captain and the only other person buried there to date.

Bennett was a state representative before World War II and came to Congress in 1948 after wartime service in the Army, during which he won both the Bronze Star Medal and the Silver Star. As a congressman he served on the House Armed Services Committee.

Bennett rejected his congressional paycheck early in his career and consistently voted against pay increases for members of Congress. Among his lasting accomplishments was enactment of ethical standards for government employees. His principles led to his nickname, “Mr. Clean.”

Bennett contracted polio while in the Army, and in later life required two canes to get around. He was a cosponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became law during President George H.W. Bush's administration.

Another accomplishment for which Bennett can be remembered, despite the absence of a marker on his grave, is also a fitting epitaph. He led the drive to have the motto “In God We Trust” placed on currency of the United States.

Glendale, a small town north of DeFuniak Springs in the Florida panhandle, is a 350-acre farm owned by brothers John and William Wilkerson.

Currently, the brothers are trying to convert the farm into one of the only cemeteries strictly for green burials in the United States, but have been met with resistance from political figures and citizens of their own community.

Despite this resistance in Florida, the thought of a green burial is slowly and steadily catching on in some of the northern states.

There are many woodland preserves in the northern United States being considered for, or at least petitioned to be, the use of the land for green burials.

The idea of a green burial is one catching on throughout the world as overpopulation is steadily becoming an issue for the current population to deal with and more people are becoming geared toward environmentally safe methods of living and now dying.

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