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Arlington National Cemetery

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Soldier's of the Army Reserves' 311th Quatermaster Company, a Mortuary Affairs unit, help members of the maintenance crew align headstones.

Official U.S. Army Photo
Individuals eligible for burial may opt for inurnment at the cemetery’s columbarium complex. Eligibility for inurnment also extends to honorably discharged veterans (regardless of how many years they served), their spouses and dependent children.

Each columbarium niche has room for two urns and is sealed with a marble plaque that bears the names and years of birth and death of those within.

Burial arrangements, including burial-site selection, are made only upon the death of the individual. Arrangements are typically coordinated between staffs at the deceased’s funeral home and the cemetery. Cemetery staff can also help schedule use of the nearby Fort Myer Chapel, as well as a military chaplain when a family minister is not preferred.

Families bear no costs for graves or columbarium niches, for the opening and closing of graves, gravesite care, burial flags or government-issued headstones.

Requests for exception to burial eligibility are accepted only upon a veteran’s death. The requests should include the name of the deceased, reason the deceased should be favorably considered, and all documentation of military service, the point of contact’s day and evening phone numbers, and a completed copy of the cemetery’s public disclosure form, which is available by calling (703) 607-8545.

Requests should be faxed to (703) 607-8543 or mailed to Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington VA 22211-5003. Requests are generally answered by phone within 48 hours.

The cemetery staff can arrange for military funeral honors of enlisted members, commissioned officers and warrant officers at both in-ground burials and inurnment ceremonies. Enlisted honors include pallbearers, a firing party to fire the three-rifle volley and a bugler to play “Taps.” Caisson, band and escort troops are added to the honors for commissioned and warrant officers.

For information on burial at other national cemeteries, go to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration Web site at www.cem.va.gov.

The Visitors

The cemetery draws 4.5 million visitors each year. Most consider their visits a tour of American history and spend about two hours walking grounds that Metzler deems “magnificent.” Tourists commonly see funerals and hear the firing of rifles in the background.

Many are draw to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknowns. Kennedy’s grave is marked by an eternal flame, an ide4a conceived by Jacqueline Kennedy to show the word that her husband had also given his life for America.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded around the clock by Soldiers of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard). The tomb holds the remains of one unknown each from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

The crypt for the unknown of the Vietnam War has been left empty since the remains that were originally entombed there were disinterred in 1998, identified as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie and then reburied near his family’s home. The crypt was rededicated in 1999 to service members lost and missing from all wars.

Arlington is one of more than 130 national cemeteries. It and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington D.C., are the only two managed by the Army. The rest fall under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

Though burial space has become limited, Sherlock and Metzler agree there’s no need for concern. The rate of in-ground burials has decreased slightly since the 1980 opening of the columbarium complex, which will eventually provide space for up to 100,000 cremated remains.

Metzler walks the cemetery grounds each night. “I enjoy the solemnity, although it’s emotional to reflect on the thousands who are buried here and the ones who are unknown,” Metzler said.

On Memorial Day weekend, visitors find American flags at every grave and columbarium niche. Each year Soldiers of the Old Guard spend three hours conducting the “Flags-In” ceremony before the holiday.

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