Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s national cemetery, is somewhat between a rock and a hard place as they plan the future of the cemetery. I don’t think anybody disagrees with Karen Durham-Aguilera, the cemetery’s executive director when she states, “We want to be open. We want to have that opportunity for that 5-year-old who’s going to raise their hand one day to serve this great nation. So to be able to do that, we need to plan for our future.”
However, that planning, and how space will be saved and allocated, doesn’t seem to sit well with some retired military personnel who see their ability to be buried in “the hallowed ground” of Arlington being lost if the plans proceed in their present status. Even with a recent expansion, Arlington National at present, has only enough grave spaces to last until 2060 at the present rate of interments.
Because of that situation, the Army has came up with a plan to to move that 2060 date well into the future. That plan entails limited in ground, earth burial to “service members who received the highest combat awards”. Those without these awards would not be eligible for “earth burial”.
A compromise in the new proposal is that “veterans without major combat awards” can still be laid to rest at Arlington, but only after cremation and in above ground cremation columbariums. According to this article from KPBS of San Diego, Durham-Aguilera said of that proposal, “They may be eligible only above ground, but they’re still eligible here at Arlington National Cemetery until we run out of that above ground space.”
Kathi Dugan is a 73-year old, 30-year retired member of the Navy. She has several members of her family buried at Arlington National Cemetery and believed that would be her final resting place as well. She had hoped her final military honor would be having her name engraved on one of the iconic white headstones at Arlington National. According to the article here’s what she said, “To me, it’s a fitting way of closing one’s career, with honor and dignity.”
The article also states that Dugan has concerns about cremation. . . and it is not the choice she wants. She also stated, “To me, this was a promise. I mean, it’s like, sealed with the patriotism and the blood and the sweat.”
Mark Belinsky of the Military Officers Association of America goes so far as to say another national cemetery similar to Arlington National should be constructed. He also struggles with the idea that “in ground earth burial” at Arlington National will now be reduced to only those veterans “with highest combat awards.” He commented in the article, “As an Army veteran myself, close combat is incredibly dangerous, and does require valor. But so does service in the air, or service underway at sea, or under the sea, or in a strategic nuclear force, or in a hospital lab fighting COVID.”
Durham-Aguilera stated that the Army wants to have the new regulations finalized by the end of the year.
Funeral Director Daily take: This is an incredibly difficult issue. As the greater Washington, DC, metropolitan area has grown all around the cemetery over the years a filled-up cemetery will eventually happen. There are no easy answers.
I love visiting Washington, DC, and I love visiting Arlington National Cemetery. To me the grounds are hallowed and I’m in awe of the men and women who rest there eternally and the valor that they had for their country. As a funeral director I’ve had the opportunity to send some of my community’s finest to lay to rest there. It was always an honor.
And, Arlington National has such history. From at one time being property in the families of George Washington and Robert E. Lee to the fact that the grounds are where the Union had freed slaves settle during the Civil War. A new cemetery can be built. . . . . but there will always be only one Arlington National Cemetery.
Eligibility rules have to be made. . . . I just feel so bad for those men and women who may be left out of this high honor of being laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Here is a Wikipedia history of Arlington National Cemetery.
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