From the eternal flame at the grave of the nation's 35th president to the thousands of small, white headstones that cover the terrain, Arlington National Cemetery represents a cross-section of America.
It serves as a resting place for everyday men and women who died defending their nation, as well as a memorial for famous national figures like President John F. Kennedy.
Florence native Fran McKee will join that long list of honor when she is buried in Arlington National Cemetery on April 8, 2002.
There are more than 100 military cemeteries, but Arlington remains the most recognized and celebrated. The cemetery was created in 1864 during the Civil War on land that was the seized estate of Confederate
General Robert E Lee.
The cemetery officially became federal government property after it reimbursed Lee's family for the property and the adjoining mansion in 1883.
“There is just so much history tied in there,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Neil Reinwald, a professor of military science at the University of Alabama. “When people think of national military cemeteries, Arlington comes to mind.”
McKee, the Navy's second female admiral and its first female line officer, died March 3, 2002. It will take more than a month for her burial. With thousands of requests annually, a long process of verification must be
completed before the final honors are granted.
“Eligibility has gotten significantly strict over the last couple of years,” said Kerri Sullivan, Army affairs officer in Washington, D.C. “It's just with going through the veterans affairs process that takes three to four
McKee will receive a full military funeral that includes a military band, bugler and a seven-member firing party.
Along with grave burials, an area was added for cremated remains in 1980. Eventually, that facility will be able to store 50,000.
Requirements for this type of burial are not as strict as is ground interment.
“Every veteran who has served honorably can be buried in a military cemetery,” Reinwald said. Still, the symbolism associated with this particular ground makes Arlington a favorite.
Sullivan said the federal government recently added 12 acres to the cemetery. In 1999, the government transferred 45 acres to Arlington after officials warned that the cemetery would be at capacity in 25 years
With new land, Sullivan said the cemetery's life has been extended to 2060.
That land comes at a critical time for the cemetery. Officials expect burial requests to rise with the passing of World War II and Korean War veterans.
“We'll be looking for an increase in the next five years or so,” Sullivan said.
Reinwald said Arlington will continue to play an important role in military life, even after the veterans of the last major wars are gone.
“One of the ties that we have is our tradition,” he said. “I think this is something that's going to continue.”
There are now more than 20 funerals a day at the cemetery.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard