The Wash

Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room

95,000 burial spaces remain at Arlington National Cemetery. 22 million living members of the armed services are eligible for them.

Operators of the Arlington National Cemetery bury roughly 15 service members a day. They expect to run out of room by about 2055.

Steps have been taken to combat this shortage of space, yet the inevitability remains.

Only a few weeks ago, the Acting Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, proposed changes to the regulations determining who is eligible to be buried on the hallowed grounds.

Many veterans have mixed feelings regarding the forthcoming restrictions.

“It’s understandable that these are going to fill up,” said retired Sgt. Daniel Fire, who received a Purple Heart after being injured in a rocket attack in the Vietnam War.

“It may come down to just money and how far they want to go,” Fire said. “I think that anybody who’s served and said that they did their oath to serve up until death, which we all did, even the cook, they deserve to be buried along with [the others]. They’re all heroes in my opinion.”

Fire says he will be buried at the military cemetery in Pembroke, New York, since they are building a new one there, and he is from the Buffalo area.

“It’s sad that we’re not going to be able to accommodate the veterans of current and future wars, but the space will only hold so many people,” said Bob Phillips, a former marine who served on various Navy vessels from 1958 to 1964.

Phillips hopes veteran organizations can provide national cemeteries equivalent to the one in Arlington, so veterans can have an honorable resting place.

There are 138 other military cemeteries honoring the nation’s armed forces, and we need to remember that these sites are “no less honorable,” said Timothy Lawson, the Arlington Cemetery public affairs specialist.

Lawson told The Wash in an effort to save space private burial markers including obelisks and ornate structures were banned several years ago in 13 sections of the cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery is also planning a southern expansion, which would reroute Columbia Pike, Lawson said. But they are still in the planning stages.

Even with the possible expansion, the cemetery will run out of room without the changes of eligibility.

If the new criterium is approved by the Department of Defense, only the following will be eligible for underground interment:

  • Combat-deceased military
  • POWs
  • Recipients of the Silver Star or higher, who’ve served in combat
  • Recipients of the Purple Heart
  • Presidents and vice presidents
  • Retired members of the military who served out of uniform as government officials or who made significant contributions to the nation’s security

Henry Vance, a command sergeant major who spent over 30 years with the Army, said he’s “not crazy” about the new criteria.

“It doesn’t matter to me personally, when you’re dead you’re dead, but I think people should have the right to be buried there even if they’re not veterans of combat,” Vance said.

Nonetheless, Vance said he gets the “big picture” of what the Army’s trying to do.

The changes in eligibility go through a ten-step process. It begins with Congress passing a statute, which is followed by a public comment period. The process ends with implementation of the rule.

That could take about nine months, although, as of now, the timeline is uncertain, said Lawson.

Fire, who served with the U.S. Air Force during his stint in Vietnam, said he still must abide by the “echelon of command.”

“As a soldier I follow orders, as a civilian I follow the same orders,” Fire said. “I trust my government. They do the best they can do with the circumstances. At least we’re still not forgotten.”

Jamie Benedi

Jamie Benedi

My name is Jamie Benedi. I'm a graduate student at American University, studying Investigative Journalism.

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