Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is described as “the nation’s most hallowed ground” and is one of America’s oldest national cemeteries. It is on land that was formerly owned by George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson.
Arlington National Cemetery or ANC falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Office of Army Cemeteries (OAC), which is also responsible for the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Arlington has as many as 30 funeral services per day on more than 600 acres. At the time of this writing, some four hundred thousand people are buried here.
A Brief History Of Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is situated on land owned by Martha Washington’s grandson, who left the land to his daughter when he died. That daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, was married to Robert E. Lee. Yes, that Robert E. Lee.
The estate was left vacant when the Civil War began and was eventually occupied by Union troops. The site was at least in part used to assist former slaves transitioning to life as free Americans.
But the pace of the Civil War meant military funerals had taken a sharp uptick and the site became a burial ground for war dead, with the very first military burial taking place at Arlington on May 13, 1864, for Private William Christman.
In June of the same year, the War Department set aside some 200 acres at Arlington for official use as a cemetery, and the federal government eventually compensated the Lee estate for the land.
Who Is Eligible To Be Buried At Arlington?
ANC has some of the most strict requirements of all American national cemeteries and as the official site points out, eligibility for burial at Arlington is determined at the time of need. There are no reservations permitted.
There are two types of placement at Arlington National Cemetery; above-ground and in-ground. Those who wish to be laid to rest above ground in either niche wall or Columbarium Court must generally meet the following requirements:
- Must have at least one day of active service outside training
- Must have an Honorable discharge
For in-ground burial, the following requirements will apply as appropriate:
- The service member died while on Title 10 Federal Active Duty other than for training
- The veteran was retired from active duty and receiving retirement pay
- The veteran received Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart
- Any former prisoner of war whose last period of service terminated honorably; and who died on or after Nov. 30, 1993
The Arlington National Cemetery official site notifies visitors that it “does not charge fees for an interment or inurnment at the cemetery”.
There are “potential costs to the estate” for a burial vault and in general, “All costs associated” with preparation of the remains, casket / urn, transportation of the remains to the Washington, D.C. area are at the expense of the estate, “unless the deceased was on active duty with a branch of the Armed Forces.”
Burial At Arlington National Cemetery
Pre-need arrangements are not possible at Arlington. The process for determining eligibility begins at the time of need; when the veteran dies, next-of-kin should make any arrangements needed for services in the local area, but for burial at Arlington the surviving family members should call or have the funeral director call Arlington National Cemetery at 1-877-907-8585 to make arrangements for burial there.
Scheduling is a complicated process and waiting times may be in effect. The ANC official site states that one factor in the speed of processing such requests has to do with the family’s ability to obtain crucial documents such as the veteran’s DD Form 214 and other documents to confirm military service and the nature of the veteran’s discharge.
The ANC official site says when the family’s first call comes in, tracking numbers will be given to the family and ANC staff must confirm eligibility, but reminds, “It is the family’s responsibility to provide the service member’s eligibility documents. A service will not be scheduled until all required documents are received.”
What You Should Know About Scheduling Funeral Services At Arlington
Fact sheets from Arlington National Cemetery state that obtaining military funeral services at ANC is “primarily influenced by three factors: the type of remains, military resources available and preferences of the individual family”.
At press time, the operations tempo of the facility includes the previously mentioned 30 funerals per day; the wait time to schedule “the most resource-intensive services at ANC has increased” and wait lists may apply.
There are exceptions made for “current-conflict active duty service members killed in action or who died of wounds”. Those burials can be accommodated within two weeks of the date of death, according to the ANC official site.
What You Need To Know About Leaving Flowers And Tributes At Arlington National Cemetery
ANC has a list of guidelines all visitors should know before visiting. There is a list of prohibited items that may not be taken to or left by the graveside. These include:
- Vigil lights
- Any glass objects
You are permitted to leave flowers and tributes that meet ANC guidelines which include but may not be limited to the following:
- Fresh cut flowers may be placed on graves at any time.
- Artificial flowers may be placed on gravesites from Oct. 10 through April 15.
- Flowers may be placed at the bottom of a column at the niche wall.
- Flowers may be placed in the columbarium.
- The government does not assume any responsibility for damaged or missing flowers or tributes.
- Permanent flower containers are no longer authorized for placement.
- Planting is not allowed.
- Potted plants are permitted seven days before and seven days after Easter Sunday.
- Wreaths are permitted from Dec. 1 through Jan. 31.
- Grave blankets and Christmas trees are prohibited.
- Affixing or attaching any item to a headstone or niche cover is prohibited.
If you aren’t sure whether your flowers, tribute, or other items are permitted to be left at the cemetery, call 877-907-8585 for more information.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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