Arlington National Cemetery survey

The vast majority of respondents to a Department of Defense survey favor keeping Arlington National Cemetery operational for as long as possible, even if it means tightening up on those who are deemed eligible for burial there.

A total of 96 percent of the nearly 230,000 people who participated in the recent survey want the iconic cemetery to remain open to burials as far into the future as practical.

About 90 percent of both military veterans and active-duty service personnel who participated in the survey said the cemetery’s boundaries should be expanded if possible to accommodate additional burials, and agreed that eligibility could be limited in order to extend the usable life of the cemetery.

The survey, which debuted in April, was the second in two years put out by officials at the cemetery, who are attempting to find consensus on the future of a burial ground that is rapidly running out of space.

Congress directed the Department of the Army, which has oversight of the cemetery, to consider available options. The survey was part of the outreach effort.

“While no decisions have been made, we wanted to provide you a brief snapshot of initial findings,” cemetery officials said in releasing the findings of the second survey.

According to current estimates, Arlington National Cemetery is slated to run out of burial space in approximately 23 years. Acquisition of additional land has proved challenging and would have limited impact; at the current rate of funeral services, each new acre would extend the usable life of the cemetery by just three months, cemetery officials said.

Arlington National Cemetery sits on land once owned by the Custis-Lee families, which was seized by the federal government during the Civil War. (The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1880s ruled the seizure illegal, but the family opted to sell the land to the government rather than return to it.)

The first soldier to be buried on the site was Army Pvt. William Christman of Pennsylvania, who was interred on May 13, 1864.

Two presidents – William Howard Taft and John Kennedy – are among the more than 250,000 people buried at the cemetery. So, too, is James Parks, who was born into slavery at the Arlington House plantation and from the time of the Civil War until his death in the 1920s served the War Department on the grounds, making him the only person to have been both born and buried there.

Since 1864, there have been more than a dozen changes to the eligibility rules for burials at the cemetery, with the last major alteration coming in 2002. (Current regulations, and a list of past rules, can be found at www.arlingtoncemetery.net/eligib.htm.)

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