Yesterday, 11/11/2019, was Veterans Day when we honor all those that have served in our military. Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in whose 624 acres the dead of the nation’s conflicts has been buried, beginning with the Civil War, as well as re-interred dead from earlier wars. The United States Department of the Army, a component of the United States Department of Defense, controls the cemetery.
According to NBC News, the Acting Secretary of the Army announced proposed changes to eligibility criteria at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is weighing all its options as it is forced to make major changes. On its 624 acres, 14,000 veterans have been laid to rest.
The nation’s premier military cemetery is at a critical crossroads in its history. Nearly all of the 22 million living armed forces members and veterans are eligible for less than 95,000 remaining burial spaces within these hallowed grounds.
A planned Southern Expansion project will add 37 acres of additional burial space for the nation’s veterans. Southern Expansion includes the area nearest the Air Force Memorial and a part of the former grounds of the Navy Annex. However, expansion alone will not keep Arlington National Cemetery open to new interments well into the future. Without changes to eligibility, Arlington National Cemetery will be full for first burials by the mid-2050s.
“The hard reality is we are running out of space,” said Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery Karen Durham-Aguilera.
The Secretary established imperatives to recognize the individual’s sacriﬁce, service, and impact to the nation’s security. The proposed eligibility criteria honor the commitment to military service and are equitable across branches and eras of service. Additionally, any change should be easily understood, fair and consistent with Arlington National Cemetery’s mission.
Years of outreach have guided the decision-making process. Arlington National Cemetery and its stakeholders – military and veteran service organizations, military, government leaders, Congress, veterans, military service members, and their family members – have been working this issue very closely.
“This has been a very lengthy and deliberate process that has been done in the public domain,” said former Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery Katharine Kelley. “We have a Federal Advisory Committee at Arlington National Cemetery, an independent body mandated by Congress to look at very substantive issues related to the cemetery, and they have looked at the question of eligibility for many years,” said Kelley.
“We want to stay open for 150 more years, so not just our current generation, but that 5-year-old who is going to raise his or her hand one day to serve this nation, we also want to be available for them for our future,” said Durham-Aguilera.
“I’ve talked to quite a few veterans about this issue and mixed reactions but mainly a big sense of disappointment that this is signaling that this is coming to an end, and I think that most veterans would like to be able to see the possibility that maybe they might be able to be buried there. I know I certainly would like to myself,” said Thomas Porter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Arlington is a place all its own that draws millions of visitors a year to visit family members, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witness the changing of the guard, or simply to walk among the marble stones and pay homage to America’s heroes.
Ref. NBC News, arlingtoncemetery.mil, cnn.com, wikipedia.com
Photo courtesy of Bing via howstuffworks.com