In the early 1960s when I escorted the first Air Force master sergeant casualty of Vietnam to Arlington Cemetery, it was natural to envision the cemetery stretching on forever.
In ’71 and ’72 while assigned to the Pentagon, I read a report from the Army, which managed the cemetery. The report had warned of space issues for years.
Demand at Arlington is higher than at the 135 national cemeteries managed by the Veterans Administration. Approximately 400,000 people are buried at Arlington, and it conducts about 7,000 funeral services each year. Even with the opening of a 27-acre expansion this fall, the cemetery is expected to reach capacity in the early 2040s.
If passed by Congress, the changing eligibility requirements at Arlington will allow only Medal of Honor recipients and service members killed in action to be buried there.
Officials anticipated the change would allow Arlington to remain active for the next two centuries.
(Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.)