Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington County, Virginia, directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial, is a United States military cemetery beneath whose 624 acres (253 ha) have been laid casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation's conflicts beginning with the American Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars. It was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington).
George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington, acquired the land that now is Arlington National Cemetery in 1802, and began construction of Arlington House. The estate passed to Custis' daughter, Mary Anna, who had married United States Army officer Robert E. Lee. Custis' will gave a "life inheritance" to Mary Lee, allowing her to live at and run Arlington Estate for the rest of her life but not enabling her to sell any portion of it. Upon her death, the Arlington estate passed to her eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee.
When Virginia seceded from the Union at the start of the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee resigned his commission on April 20, 1861, and took command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, later becoming commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. On May 7, troops of the Virginia militia occupied Arlington and Arlington House. With Confederate forces occupying Arlington's high ground, the capital of the Union was left in an untenable military position. Although unwilling to leave Arlington House, Mary Lee believed her estate would soon be invested with federal soldiers. So she buried many of her family treasures on the grounds and left for her sister's estate at Ravensworth in Fairfax County, Virginia, on May 14. On May 3, General Winfield Scott ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to clear Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, of all troops not loyal to the United States. McDowell occupied Arlington without opposition on May 24.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, most military personnel who died in battle near Washington, D.C., were buried at the United States Soldiers' Cemetery in Washington, D.C., or Alexandria Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, but by late 1863 both were nearly full. On July 16, 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the U.S. federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead, and put the U.S. Army Quartermaster General in charge of this program. In May 1864, Union forces suffered large numbers of dead in the Battle of the Wilderness. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs ordered that an examination of eligible sites be made for the establishment for a large new national military cemetery. Within weeks, his staff reported that Arlington Estate was the most suitable property in the area. The property was high and free from floods (which might unearth graves), it had a view of the District of Columbia, and it was aesthetically pleasing. It was also the home of the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America, and denying Robert E. Lee use of his home after the war was a valuable political consideration. The first military burial at Arlington (a white soldier, William Henry Christman) was made on May 13, 1864. close to what is now the northeast gate in Section 27. However, Meigs did not formally authorize establishment of burials until June 15, 1864. The date or name of the first African American burial cannot be precisely determined, but occurred on either July 2 or July 3, 1864, in Section 27. Arlington did not desegregate its burial practices until President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948.
The government acquired Arlington at a tax sale in 1864 for $26,800, equal to $393,390 today. Mrs. Lee had not appeared in person but rather had sent an agent, attempting to pay the $92.07 in property taxes (equal to $1,351.47 today) assessed on the estate in a timely manner. The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the tendered payment. In 1874, Custis Lee, heir under his grandfather's will passing the estate in trust to his mother, sued the United States claiming ownership of Arlington. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Lee's favor in United States v. Lee, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process, Congress returned the estate to him. The next year, Custis Lee sold it back to the government for $150,000 (equal to $3,135,909 in 2013) at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.
The southern portion of the land now occupied by the cemetery was used during and after the Civil War as a settlement for freed slaves. More than 1,100 freed slaves were given land at Freedman's Village by the government, where they farmed and lived during and after the Civil War. They were evicted in 1888 when the estate was repurchased by the government and dedicated as a military installation.
President Herbert Hoover conducted the first national Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, on May 30, 1929.
Beginning in 1992, Morill Worcester donated thousands of wreaths around the end-of-year holiday season to be placed on graves at Arlington. He has since expanded his effort, now known as Wreaths Across America, and supplies wreaths to over 230 state and national cemeteries and veterans monuments across the country.
With limited space but large numbers of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and other veterans dying and wanting to be buried at Arlington, the need for additional burial space at the cemetery became a pressing issue. In 1990, cemetery superintendent John C. Metzler, Jr., implemented a $1.4 million plan to clear a former 13 acres (5.3 ha) parking lot to create space for new graves.
The cemetery received the authority to transfer 12 acres (4.9 ha) of woodland from the NPS-controlled Arlington House in 1996 and 2001, 37 acres (15 ha) of land in 1999 from the Department of Defense (DOD) that was the site of the Navy Annex building, 8 acres (3.2 ha) of land in 1999 from the Department of the Army that was part of Fort Myer, 4 acres (1.6 ha) of land from Arlington County's Southgate Road right-of-way in 2004, and just under 10 acres (4.0 ha) of land from Fort Myer in 2005.
In 2007, Metzler implemented the Millennium Project, a $35 million expansion plan to begin utilizing the Arlington woodland, Ft. Myer, and Navy Annex land. The project also included converting 40 acres (16 ha) of unused space and 4 acres (16,000 m2) of maintenance property on the cemetery grounds into burial space in 2006 and 2007 to allow an additional 26,000 graves and 5,000 inurnments. The Millennium Project expanded Arlington's physical boundaries for the first time since the 1960s, and the was the largest expansion of burial space at the site since the American Civil War. Metzler's plans were criticized and opposed by several environmental and historical preservation groups, as well as by the NPS and the manager of Arlington House.
In January 2013, Arlington County, Virginia, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Arlington Cemetery officials to expand the cemetery even further. Under the tentative plan, Arlington County will give up the easement for Southgate Road (which lies between the Navy Annex property and the cemetery's 2012 boundary), and obtain a narrow easement along the southwest border of the Navy Annex site for a new Southgate Road. In exchange, the Department of Defense will give the Navy Annex parking lot to the county. Army land west of South Joyce Street to Columbia Pike would be transferred to the county as well. Additionally, roughly the northern half of the Virginia Department of Transportation land bounded by South Joyce Street, Columbia Pike, and South Washington Boulevard would be conveyed by the state to the cemetery. The cloverleaf interchange between Columbia Pike and S. Washington Blvd. would be eliminated, and the hairpin turn in Columbia Pike straightened, to provide a safer, more natural exit from S. Washington Blvd. onto Columbia Pike. Although exact acreages were not specified and the plan depends on state cooperation, the MOU if implemented would create a more contiguous plot of land for the cemetery.
On March 26, 2013, Public Law 113-6 appropriated to the DOD $84 million to plan, design and construct the Millennium Project. The legislation additionally appropriated to the DOD $19 million to study, plan and design a future expansion of the Cemetery's burial space.
On February 22, 1995, officials of the United States Department of the Interior and the United States Department of the Army signed an agreement to transfer from Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, to the Army a part of Arlington Woods, which was located in Section 29 of the NPS at Arlington National Cemetery between Arlington House and Fort Myer. The property transfer, which involved 12 acres (4.9 ha) of NPS land, was intended to enable the Cemetery to increase its space for burials. Environmentalists expressed concerns that the agreement would result in the destruction of part of a 24 acres (9.7 ha) stand of trees.
On September 23, 1996, Public Law 104-201 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to the Secretary of the Army all of the land in Section 29 that was within an "Arlington National Cemetery Interment Zone" and some of the land in the Section that was within a "Robert E. Lee Memorial Preservation Zone".
On March 5, 1998, the NPS, which is a component of the Department of the Interior, informed the National Capital Planning Commission that it wanted to transfer only 4 acres (1.6 ha) to the Cemetery, rather than the 12 acres (4.9 ha) that the 1995 agreement had described. In response, Metzler stated: "I was surprised. But we will continue to work with the Department of Interior and see what happens."
On July 12, 1999, the NPS issued a Federal Register notice that announced the availability of an environmental assessment (EA) for the transfer. The EA stated that the Interment Zone contained the oldest and largest tract of climax eastern hardwood forest in Arlington County. This forest was the same type that once covered the Arlington estate, and had regenerated from trees that were present historically. A forestry study determined that a representative tree was 258 years old. The Interment Zone was also determined to contain significant archeological and cultural landscape resources, in addition to those in the Preservation Zone. The EA described four alternative courses of action.
In contrast to the NPS's March 1998 statement to the National Capital Planning Commission, the 1999 EA stated that the preferred alternative (Alternative 1) would transfer to the Cemetery approximately 9.6 acres (3.9 ha), comprising most of the Interment Zone and the northern tip of the Preservation Zone. Another alternative (Alternative 3) would transfer to the Cemetery the 12 acres (4.9 ha) Interment Zone, while keeping the 12.5 acres (5.1 ha) Preservation Zone under NPS jurisdiction. The EA concluded:
Public Law 104-201 directed the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to the Secretary of the Army jurisdiction over the Interment Zone, which is the plan in Alternative 3. Adoption of any of the other alternatives would require legislative action to amend the existing law.
On December 28, 2001, Public Law 107-107 repealed the "obsolete" part of Public Law 104-201 that had authorized the transfer of portions of Section 29 to the Secretary of the Army. The new legislation required the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to the Secretary of the Army within 30 days the approximately 12 acres (4.9 ha) Interment Zone. The transfer therefore involved the entire 12 acres (4.9 ha) of NPS land that the 1995 agreement and Alternative 3 in the 1999 EA had described.
The 2001 legislation required the Secretary of the Army to use the Interment Zone for in-ground burial sites and columbarium. In addition, the legislation required the Secretary of the Interior to manage the remainder of Section 29 "in perpetuity to provide a natural setting and visual buffer for Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial."
On December 12, 2012, the United States Army Corps of Engineers asked for comments on a draft EA that described a further expansion of Arlington National Cemetery as part of the Millennium Project. The 2012 draft EA was intended to implement conversion into burial space of the 17 acres (6.9 ha) of Ft. Myer grounds as well as 10 acres (4.0 ha) of Section 29 woodland. The draft EA described seven alternatives. The preferred alternative (Alternative E) called for the removal of about one-half of the 1,700 trees with a diameter of 6 inches (15 cm) or greater on the site. About 640 of the trees were within a 135-year-old portion of Arlington Woods. The draft EA concluded:
Based on the evaluation of environmental impacts ....., no significant impacts would be expected from the Proposed Action; therefore, an Environmental Impact Statement will not be prepared and a Finding of No Significant Impact will be prepared and signed.
On March 12, 2013, the Corps of Engineers released a revised EA for the Millennium Project. The revised EA contained copies of a number of public comments on the draft EA that had criticized the project and parts of the EA while proposing alternative locations for new military burials near the Cemetery and elsewhere. However, the Department of Forestry of the Commonwealth of Virginia found that, based on information in the draft EA, the project would not have a significant adverse impact on the Commonwealth's forest resources. The revised EA did not change the preferred alternative (Alternative E) or the Army's plans to prepare and sign the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that the draft EA had described.
On June 5, 2013, after reviewing 100 public comments that it had received on the revised EA, the Corps of Engineers released a final EA and a signed FONSI for the Millennium Project. The Final EA and the FONSI retained Alternative E as the preferred alternative. The final EA stated that, of the 905 trees to be removed, 771 trees were healthy native trees that had diameters between 6 and 41 inches. The project would remove approximately 211 trees from a less than 2.63 acres (1.06 ha) area containing a portion of a 145-year-old forest that stood within the property boundaries of a historic district that a National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Arlington House had described in 1966. About 491 trees would be removed from an area of trees that was approximately 105 years old. Approximately 203 trees with ages of 50 to 145 years would be removed from a former picnic area. At a public hearing on July 11, 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission approved the site and building plans for the Millennium Project.
Arlington National Cemetery is divided into 70 sections, with some sections in the southeast and western part of the cemetery reserved for future expansion. Section 60, in the southeast part of the cemetery, is the burial ground for military personnel killed in the Global War on Terror since 2001. Section 21, also known as the Nurses Section, is the area of Arlington National Cemetery where many nurses are buried and is the site of the Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial and the Nurses Memorial. Another section—Chaplains Hill—includes monuments to Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic military chaplains. In 1901, Confederate soldiers buried at the Soldiers' Home and various locations within Arlington were reinterred in a Confederate section that was authorized by Congress in 1900. On June 4, 1914, the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the Confederate Memorial designed by Moses Ezekiel. Upon his death in 1917, Ezekiel was buried at the base of the monument as he was a veteran of the Confederate army. All Confederate headstones in this section are peaked rather than rounded. More than 3,800 former slaves, called "Contrabands" during the Civil War, are buried in Section 27. Their headstones are designated with the word "Civilian" or "Citizen".
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the National Cemetery Administration's orders for placement of inscriptions and faith emblems at no charge to the estate of the deceased, submitted with information provided by the next of kin that is placed on upright marble headstones or columbarium niche covers. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently offers 57 authorized faith emblems for placement on markers to represent the deceased's faith. This number has grown in recent years due to legal challenges to policy.
Prior to 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not allow the use of the pentacle as an "emblem of belief" on tombstones in military cemeteries. This policy was changed following an out-of-court settlement on 23 April following a series of lawsuits by the family of Patrick Stewart against the VA.
Between 1947 and 2001, privately purchased markers were permitted in the cemetery. The sections in which the cemetery permitted such markers are nearly filled and the cemetery generally does not allow new burials in these sections. Nevertheless, the older sections of the cemetery have a wide variety of private markers placed prior to 2001, including an artillery piece.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is part of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater. The Memorial Amphitheater has hosted state funerals and Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. Ceremonies are also held for Easter. About 5,000 people attend these holiday ceremonies each year. The structure is mostly built of Imperial Danby marble from Vermont. The Memorial Display room, between the amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns, uses Botticino stone, imported from Italy. The amphitheater was the result of a campaign by Ivory Kimball to construct a place to honor America's servicemen/women. Congress authorized the structure March 4, 1913. Woodrow Wilson laid the cornerstone for the building on October 15, 1915. The cornerstone contained 15 items including a Bible and a copy of the Constitution.
Before the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater was completed in 1921, important ceremonies were held at what is now known as the "Old Amphitheater." This structure sits where Robert E. Lee once had his gardens. The amphitheater was built in 1868 under the direction of General John A. Logan. Gen. James A. Garfield was the featured speaker at the Decoration Day dedication ceremony, May 30, 1868. The amphitheater has an encircling colonnade with a latticed roof that once supported a web of vines. The amphitheater has a marble dais, known as "the rostrum", which is inscribed with the U.S. national motto found on the Great Seal of the United States, E pluribus unum ("Out of many, one"). The rostrum was personally designed by General Montgomery C. Meigs, then Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. The amphitheater seats 1,500 people and has hosted speakers such as William Jennings Bryan.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands on top of a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. One of the more well-attended sites at the Cemetery, the tomb is made from Yule marble quarried in Colorado. It consists of seven pieces, with a total weight of 79 short tons (72 metric tons). The tomb was completed and opened to the public April 9, 1932, at a cost of $48,000.
It was initially named the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier." Other unknown servicemen were later entombed there, and it became known as the "Tomb of the Unknowns", though it has never been officially named. The soldiers entombed there are:
The Tomb of the Unknowns has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment ("The Old Guard") began guarding the Tomb on April 6, 1948. There is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard:
After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the 21-gun salute.
Each turn the guard makes is precise and is instantly followed by a loud click of the heels as he snaps them together. The guard is changed every half hour during daylight in the summer, and every hour during daylight in the winter and every two hours at night (when the cemetery is closed to the public), regardless of weather conditions.
There are several memorials on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. But due to the lack of space for burials and the large amount of space that memorials take up, the U.S. Army now requires a joint or concurrent resolution from Congress before it will place new memorials at Arlington.
Near the Tomb of the Unknowns stands the Mast MemorialUSS Maine, which commemorates the 266 men who lost their lives aboard the MaineUSS . The memorial is built around a mast salvaged from the Maine’s wreckage. The USS Maine Memorial served as the temporary resting place for foreign heads of state or government, Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippines and Ignacy Jan Paderewski of Poland, who died in exile in the United States during World War II.
The Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial was dedicated on May 20, 1986, in memory of the crew of flight STS-51-L, who died during launch on January 28, 1986. Transcribed on the back of the stone is the text of the John Gillespie Magee, Jr. poem High Flight, which was quoted by then President Ronald Reagan when he addressed the disaster. Although many remains were identified and returned to the families for private burial, some were not, and were laid to rest under the marker. Two crew members, Scobee and Smith, are buried in Arlington. On February 1, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe dedicated a similar memorial to those who died when the Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry on February 1, 2003. Astronauts Laurel Clark, David Brown and Michael Anderson, who were killed in the Columbia disaster, are also buried in Arlington.
The Lockerbie Cairn is a memorial to the 270 killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The memorial is constructed of 270 stones, one for each person killed in the disaster. In section 64, a memorial to the 184 victims of the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon was dedicated September 11, 2002. The memorial takes the shape of a pentagon, and lists the names of all the victims that were killed. Unidentified remains from the victims are buried beneath it.
On June 25, 1925, President Calvin Coolidge approved a request to erect a Commonwealth Cross of Sacrifice with the names of all the citizens of the USA who lost their lives fighting in the Canadian forces during World War I. The monument was dedicated November 11, 1927 and after the Korean War and World War II the names of US citizens who died in those conflicts were added.
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial is adjacent to the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2012, legislation began moving through Congress to approve a "Place of Remembrance" at Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial will be an ossuary designed to contain fragments of remains which are unidentifiable through DNA analysis. The remains will be cremated before placement in the memorial.
The flags in Arlington National Cemetery are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day. Funerals are normally conducted five days a week, excluding weekends.
Funerals, including interments and inurnments, average between 27-30 per day. The cemetery conducts approximately 6,900 burials each year.
With more than 400,000 interments, Arlington National Cemetery has the second-largest number of burials of any national cemetery in the United States. The largest of the 130 national cemeteries is the Calverton National Cemetery, on Long Island, near Riverhead, New York, which conducts more than 7,000 burials each year.
In addition to in-ground burial, Arlington National Cemetery also has one of the larger columbaria for cremated remains in the country. Four courts are currently in use, each with 5,000 niches. When construction is complete, there will be nine courts with a total of 50,000 niches; capacity for 100,000 remains. Any honorably discharged veteran is eligible for inurnment in the columbarium, if s/he served on active duty at some point in her/his career (other than for training).
Part 553 of Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations establishes regulations for Arlington National Cemetery, including eligibility for interment (ground burial) and inurnment. Due to limited space, the criteria for ground burial eligibility are more restrictive than at other national cemeteries, as well as more restrictive than for inurnment in the columbarium.
The persons specified below are eligible for ground burial in Arlington National Cemetery, unless otherwise prohibited. The last period of active duty of former members of the armed forces must have ended honorably. Interment may be of casketed or cremated remains.
Due at least partly to the lack of space at the cemetery for ground burial, standards for inurnment (burial of cremated remains) in the columbarium are currently much less restrictive than for ground burial at the Cemetery. In general, any former member of the armed forces who served on active duty (other than for training) and whose last service terminated honorably is eligible for inurnment. Eligibility for inurnment is described fully in 32 C.F.R. § 553.15a.
Congress has from time to time created prohibited categories of persons that, even if otherwise eligible for burial, lose that eligibility. One such prohibition is against certain persons who are convicted of committing certain state or federal capital crimes, as defined in 38 U.S. Code § 2411. Capital crime is a specifically defined term in the statute, and for state offenses can include offenses that are eligible for a life sentence (with or without parole). The reasoning for this provision originally was to prevent Timothy McVeigh from being eligible at Arlington National Cemetery, but it has since been amended to prevent others.
Also prohibited under the same statute are those determined, with clear and convincing evidence, to have avoided such conviction by death or flight.
The first soldier to be buried in Arlington was Private William Henry Christman of Pennsylvania on May 13, 1864. As of May 2006, there were 367 Medal of Honor recipients buried in Arlington National Cemetery,][ nine of whom are Canadian.
Four state funerals have been held at Arlington: those of Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, that of General John J. Pershing, and that of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Whether or not they were wartime service members, U.S. presidents are eligible to be buried at Arlington, since they oversaw the armed forces as commanders-in-chief.
Among the most frequently visited sites in the cemetery is the grave of President John F. Kennedy, who is buried with his wife, Jacqueline, and two of their children. His remains were interred there on March 14, 1967, a reinterment from his original Arlington burial site, some 20 feet (6.1 m) away, where he was buried in November 1963. The grave is marked with the "eternal flame". The remains of his brothers, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, are buried nearby. The latter two graves are marked with simple crosses and footstones. On December 1, 1971, Robert Kennedy's body was reinterred 100 feet (30 m) from its original June 1968 burial site.
On June 9, 2010, United States Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh reprimanded Arlington National Cemetery's superintendent, John C. Metzler, Jr., and his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, after a United States Department of Defense inspector general's report revealed that cemetery officials had placed the wrong headstones on tombs, buried coffins in shallow graves, and buried bodies on top of one another. Metzler, who had already announced his intention to retire on July 2, 2010, admitted some mistakes had been made but denied allegations of widespread or serious mismanagement. The investigation also found that cemetery employees were burdened in their day-to-day work by "dysfunctional management, lack of established policy and procedures, and an overall unhealthy organizational climate." Both Metzler and Higgenbotham retired soon after the investigation commenced.
In March 2011, as a result of the problems discovered, Kathryn Condon, the recently appointed director of the Army Cemeteries Program, announced that the cemetery's staff had been increased from 102 to 159. She added that the cemetery was also acquiring additional equipment because, "They didn't have the proper equipment to do the job really to the standard they needed to do."
The mismanagement controversy included a limitation on mass media access to funerals, which also proved controversial. Until 2005, the cemetery's administration gave free access, with the family's permission, to the press to cover funerals at the cemetery. According to the Washington Post in 2008, the cemetery gradually imposed increasing restrictions on media coverage of funerals beginning about 2005.