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Expansion Could Add 75 Years To Cemetery's Life
April 19, 1999

The stewards of Arlington National Cemetery have their eyes on 265 adjacent acres that, if acquired, would allow one of the nation's most hallowed shrines to remain open for new burials for another 75 years.

Without expansion, the Northern Virginia cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is projected to reach its interment capacity by 2025.

"The only way to expand the life of the cemetery is to get more grave sites," said John C. Metzler Jr., the facility's superintendent.

Metzler conservatively estimates the increased acreage, which includes opening part of an existing 12-acre cemetery parcel, could create 159,000 new grave sites, including both burial plots and columbarium spaces for cremated remains.

Under the expansion proposal, Arlington Cemetery would acquire the Navy Annex building, the Marine Corps' Henderson Hall, some areas on Fort Myer, a National Park Service storage area and a parking lot owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Metzler said cemetery officials also would like to acquire private land now occupied by a Sheraton hotel, a residential neighborhood and a private commercial parking lot.

Transferral of federal properties to Arlington Cemetery would require approval of the secretaries of the respective departments that own them, Metzler said. Congress would have to approve funding to buy the private lands, he said.

The proposals were first put forth by cemetery officials in a 1998 master plan that also addressed accommodations for visitors, funding, maintenance and preservation.

"None of this is a done deal," Metzler said. "Plans to acquire these lands would take time, money and cooperation among the agencies."

Cemetery officials were scheduled to present an independent assessment of the proposal to  Congress in mid-April. Congressional approval will hinge, in part, on the findings of that report.

Of the 5,600 funeral services conducted at Arlington between October 1997 and September 1998, 2,000 involved burials in new grave sites. Another 2,000 remains were placed in urns at the cemetery's columbarium after cremation. The remaining services were for family members who shared grave sites with eligible persons already buried at Arlington.

Legislative proposals in Congress that would place new restrictions on eligibility for burial at Arlington were not a factor in current expansion proposals, Metzler said.

Burial at Arlington is restricted to service members who die on active duty, retirees, people who hold a high military decoration or honor, veterans who were disabled on duty before October 1, 1949, and certain family members.

Before 1967, any former service member whose last period of active duty ended with an honorable discharge was eligible. These veterans can still have their cremated remains interred in Arlington's columbarium.

Tighter guidelines would extend the use of the cemetery, Metzler said, "but that's a difficult thing to do."