The nation’s most prestigious military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is also one of the oldest national cemeteries in the U.S. More than 310,000 people, including military casualties and veterans from every single U.S. war—from the American Revolution through U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq—are buried at Arlington. The cemetery is also the final resting place of many notable civilian, historical, literary, and minority figures. Former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, whose iconic Arlington funeral and monument dramatically increased interest in the cemetery, is also interred there.
Among those buried at Arlington are:
The Arlington mansion was originally intended as a monument to George Washington, commissioned by Washington’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. General Robert E. Lee, who married Custis’s daughter, became executor of the estate in 1857—although, contrary to popular belief, Lee never owned the property. Lee, who had been named a major general for the Virginia military forces in April 1861, lived with his wife at Arlington until the same year, when Virginia joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union. The Lees were forced to abandon the estate as federal troops took up positions around Arlington, which was confiscated by the federal government when Mrs. Lee failed to pay property taxes.
In 1863, the federal government dedicated part of the property to a model community for freed slaves, Freedman’s Village, where more than 1,000 slaves were given land to live and farm during and after the Civil War.
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) was established by Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who appropriated the estate in 1864 for use as a military cemetery, designed to render the house uninhabitable should the Lee family attempt to reclaim it. One of the first monuments erected under Meigs was a burial vault for 1,800 Bull Run casualties.
After Lee’s death in 1870, his son claimed the property had been seized illegally. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court stated the property had been confiscated without due process and it was returned in 1882. Congress purchased the property from Lee the following year and turned it into a military reservation. Freedman’s Village was removed, but the grave sites remained.
Out of 146 national cemeteries, Arlington is one of only two administered under jurisdiction of the Department of the Army, which is responsible for “operation, maintenance and improvement.” All the rest are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The cemetery performs 27 to 30 funeral services each day. A popular attraction, it also receives about four million visitors each year. Since the burial of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington in 1963, interest in Arlington has increased dramatically. Before the Kennedy assassination, the cemetery only received about 1 million visitors a year, and in the six months following, received a reported 9 million visitors. By 1968 the Kennedy shrine was receiving an estimated 7 million visitors per year. Interest in burials also skyrocketed—400% after Kennedy’s burial (source: Slate, as reported by The Washington Post).
Funerals: Rate and expected exhaustion of facilities
Arlington conducts about 6,900 burials per year, and has more than 400,000 interments, the second largest number of any cemetery in the U.S. More than 800 casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been interred at Arlington, most laid to rest in what is called Section 60. Without expansion efforts, Arlington would exhaust its available burial spaces in FY 2016. However, the cemetery has expansion plans in the works, with added space expected to be available by November 2012. The Navy Exchange Gas Station and the 70-year-old Navy Annex, previously home to Marine Corps administration, is being demolished to free up 37 acres for the cemetery. Current construction is expected to add 20,300 niches, extending expansion through FY 2024. In the proposed FY 2013 federal budget, $19 million has been earmarked for additional expansion design and planning (See “Expansion” in Reforms section).
Arlington National Cemetery
Gravesite Capacity as of September 30, 2005
Gravesite Capacity - Developed Areas
Total Gravesites Used
Gravesites Currently Available
Available Capacity Exhausted
Gravesite Capacity -
Total Gravesite Capacity
Total Capacity Exhausted
Eligibility for Burial
As late as 1967, any soldier with honorable discharge was eligible burial at Arlington. Due to increasing popularity and limited space, the government began to apply strict eligibility requirements for burial. Currently, interment space is reserved for those who die on active duty, who have 20 years of service or earned certain military decorations—as well as their spouses and dependents.
Eligibility for Inurnment in the Columbarium (Cremation)
Any honorably discharged veteran is eligible for inurnment in the Columbarium.
Also see Debate section for eligibility issues.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
In 1864, two unknown Union soldiers—the first of nearly 5,000 unknowns—were interred in Arlington. In 1934, the official Tomb of the Unknowns (a.k.a. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) monument was erected. It houses the remains of three Unknown Soldiers, from WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. (An Unknown Soldier of Vietnam, interred in 1984, was disinterred in 1998, identified by his family, and reburied near their home. The crypt that contained his remains at the Tomb of the Unknowns remains empty.) Since 1948, the Tomb has been guarded by the U.S. Army.
New law seeks to repair, not replace, Arlington tomb (by Taryn Luntz, The Examiner)
Arlington Yields to Science: No More 'Unknowns' Likely (by Steven Lee Myers, New York Times)
The Arlington Memorial Amphitheater was the vision of Judge Ivory G. Kimball, whose campaign resulted in Congress authorizing its construction in 1913. Around 5,000 visitors attend each of three major annual memorial services, sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington—on Easter, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. Additionally, many military organizations conduct annual memorial services in the amphitheater.
From the Web Site of Arlington National Cemetery
Memorial Trees (pdf)
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) spent more than $15.8 million on 85 contractor transactions between FY 2002 and FY 2012, according to USASpending.org. The five main areas of spending were for maintenance and repair of administration buildings ($6,212,496), landscaping and grounds-keeping services ($3,075,836), IT and telecommunications ($1,947,350), miscellaneous professional services ($792,451), and maintenance/repair/restoration ($650,000).
The top five recipients of contractor spending, and the amount that each was paid during that 10-year period, were:
1. Forrester Construction Company $6,249,664
2. Greenleaf Services Inc. $2,825,668
3. Verizon Communications Inc. $1,947,350
4. Divco Inc. $650,000
5. EBA Enterprises Inc. $578,187
Up to four contracts may be awarded in 2012, totaling less than $35 million, for work including construction or repair of parking structures, roads and walkways, existing columbaria, office buildings, and re-routing of underground utilities.
Mislabeled Graves and Mismanagement
The nation’s most hallowed cemetery was embroiled in controversy when Army officials admitted that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of graves at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) were unmarked or mislabeled.
Arlington’s 19-year superintendent, John Metzler, was forced to retire along with his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, after explaining to Congress that a combination of human errors and poor technology had caused so many remains to become lost. On top of that, some $12 million in ANC funds had disappeared through mismanagement of contractors.
At one point Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) said as many as 6,600 burial plots were wrongly marked. In fact, in just three of ANC’s 70 sections, more than 200 graves had headstones that were unmarked or incorrect. One man had sent flowers for years to what turned out to be an empty gravesite—his wife’s remains were actually buried in the next plot.
Also, it was discovered that dozens of discarded headstones had been used to shore up a small stream in a remote corner of the cemetery.
By August 2011, Arlington’s new administrators had made significant progress on creating a modern digital database, built with the help of updated techniques including GPS location, document scanning, and digital photography, to keep track of all the dead, including those dating back to the 1800s.
Mislabeled Graves May Number 6,600 (Associated Press)
Arlington National Cemetery To Create Full Record Of Graves (by Paul Courson, CNN)
Hearing Examines Accountability In Arlington Cemetery Mix-Up (by Oren Dorell, USA Today)
US Army Continues to Probe Burial Mix-Ups at Arlington National Cemetery (Voice of America)
Fired for Allowing Media to Attend Funerals
The Bush administration consistently followed a policy of not allowing the media to show the coffins of soldiers killed in action or to allow coverage of funerals even when the families of deceased soldiers requested media access to help honor their fallen loved ones. When Gina Gray took charge as public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery, she began granting the families’ request for coverage. When she spoke about the subject to The Washington Post, the Army first demoted her and then fired her.
The policy had been put in place in 1991 by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and was renewed by the Bush administration in 2008. At that time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested changing the policy but was rebuffed. President Barack Obama supported Gates’ call for a review of the policy in 2009. On February 26th of that year, the media ban was officially lifted.
Putting Her Foot Down and Getting the Boot (by Dana Milbank, Washington Post)
What the Family Would Let You See, the Pentagon Obstructs (by Dana Milbank, Washington Post)
Obama Administration Lifts Blanket Ban on Media Coverage of the Return of Fallen Soldiers (National Security Archive)
There is a waiver system for exceptions to Arlington’s strict eligibility requirements, granted by the president, Army Secretary or high-ranking Army officials. The Reagan administration granted 53 exceptions in eight years, the Bush administration 34 in four years. But when increased waivers began to mirror the rising demand for plots under the Clinton administration, the Republican witchhunt found a new target. In the late 1990s, Republican congressional leaders and veterans groups leveled dramatic accusations at the Clinton government for allegedly giving away the highly coveted burial plots in exchange for campaign contributions. In response, Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. released the names of the 69 people in question, who were given special permission to be buried at Arlington on Clinton’s watch. According to Federal Election Commission records, only one of these, M. Larry Lawrence, had made an outstanding contribution to any political party, Republican or Democrat. Ambassador to Switzerland at the time of his death in 1996, Lawrence was granted an exception to the cemetery’s strict entrance requirements (later disinterred and moved). The release of names, previously avoided in the interest of privacy, quelled rising Republican fury, which included an outraged Speaker Newt Gingrich lambasting Clinton in the press. West himself granted exceptions to nine people for whom the cemetery superintendent had recommended denial.
Army Releases List of Exceptions for Arlington Cemetery Plots (by Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times)
Cohen Intervened on Army Burial (by John Solomon, Associated Press)
Eligibility Restrictions on Criminals
In a move to preclude the possibility of Oklahoma City bomber (and veteran) Timothy McVeigh being buried at Arlington, Congress passed a law in 1997 prohibiting those convicted of capital crimes from being buried in a national cemetery. When a convicted murderer—whose service in the Vietnam War, honorable discharge, and eligibility for parole at the time of his death made him eligible for Arlington burial—was interred at Arlington in 2005, many raised concerns that the 1997 legislation was not strict enough. Some veterans groups opposed tighter restrictions, concerned that they would disqualify, for example, veterans who commit crimes due to post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Murder Case May Prompt Change at Cemetery: Senate Committee to Examine Rules That Permitted Killer's Burial at Arlington (by Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post)
In 2002, responding to an increasing concern that WWII veteran deaths would peak late in the decade and fill the cemetery to capacity by 2025, the Department of the Interior and the Army set aside 26 acres to make room for more graves and a new columbarium.
Plans for expansion met with opposition from environmental and historical groups, who took issue with the anticipated destruction of a nearby forest—as well as “prehistoric archeological resources” in the surrounding area.
A land swap deal in 2008 resulted in the closure of a Navy Exchange and gas station in December 2011 so that the cemetery could be expanded. However, the project was once again on hold because of funding concerns.
Arlington Cemetery Plans for up to $45M Expansion: 36,000 Burial Sites to be Added on 30 Acres in Va. (by Jerome L. Sherman, Toledo Blade)
For Warriors Past and Future: Arlington National Cemetery Plans to Move Beyond Its Borders As More WWII Veterans Die and Are Joined by Iraq Casualties (by Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post)
New Land Expands Arlington Cemetery's Burial Space (by Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, American Forces Press Service)
A Field of Trees and Bones: The Quiet Dispute Over Dwindling Space (and foliage) at Arlington National Cemetery (by Kate Pickert, Lost Magazine)
A Vietnam Era veteran who started his cemetery career as a day laborer has risen to be the number one man at Arlington National Cemetery, the crown jewel of the national cemeteries, which conducts about 27 funerals per day. Patrick K. Hallinan was appointed acting superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery on June 10, 2010, in the wake of a scandal involving lost remains, mismarked graves and financial irregularities that severely tarnished Arlington’s reputation. The appointment was made permanent as of October 10, 2010.
Arlington National Cemetery is the nation’s largest national cemetery, and the only one administered by the Army; all others are administered by the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Arlington is also the only national cemetery that routinely holds graveside services and provides full military honors for eligible veterans.
Born in 1956, Hallinan served as an infantry squad leader with the Marine Corps during the Vietnam Era. Hallinan joined the NCA as a temporary laborer at Long Island National Cemetery in New York in 1977. At the same time, Hallinan attended college under the G.I. Bill, earning an associate’s degree in liberal arts at Suffolk Community College in Long Island, and a B.A. in Social Science (pre-law).
Rather than attending law school, however, Hallinan decided to build a career in the national cemeteries system. In September 1978, he was one of the original 37 employees who opened Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, New York. Over the next 16 years, Hallinan gradually advanced at Calverton, from day laborer to work supervisor to assistant cemetery director. In August 1994, Hallinan was named director of Calverton National Cemetery.
In June 2003, Hallinan left Calverton to join VA headquarters in Washington, DC, as associate director of the Office of Field Programs, and he was promoted to director on October 20, 2008. As director, Hallinan had oversight responsibilities for five Memorial Service Network offices and 131 national cemeteries.
Hallinan and his wife Doreen reside in Bristow, Virginia. They have a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Rachel.
Official Biography (pdf)
Army Names New Superintendent for Arlington National Cemetery (by Christian Davenport, Washington Post)