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Arlington National Cemetery: Sacred Ground
By Henry Cuningham, Military editor
Courtesy of the Fayettville Observer - 4 March 2004

Luke James told his wife, Molly, that if he died he wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery or wherever she was buried.

The Second Lieutenant was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on January 27, 2004, Mrs. James decided to have her husband buried in Arlington.

''He loved Arlington,'' she said. He watched television programs about the cemetery, the Old Guard and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, she said.

The 612-acre cemetery averages 25 to 28 burials daily. The terrain of the land ranges from hilly and tree-shaded to flat and open.

''It's sacred ground,'' Mrs. James said. "To be buried there is such an honor.'' James is buried next to Staff Sergeant Lester O. Kinney, who died in the same incident.

The sights and sounds of Arlington mingle the bucolic with the urban. There are white oaks and pin oaks. Deer, red fox and Canada geese roam the cemetery. Birds chirp against a background of highway noise, airplanes taking off from Reagan Washington National Airport and helicopters coming and going from the Pentagon.

Section 60

James and Kinney are buried in Section 60, which Arlington has designated for most of the troops who die in Iraq and Afghanistan. The section, in the south-central part of the cemetery, is relatively flat and open. The war deaths have made the cemetery a busier place, with more visitors, heavier traffic, full-honor funerals, bands and flyovers, said Barbara Owens, a spokeswoman for the cemetery.

James was a 24-year-old platoon leader in Company B of the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Because of the danger of his job as an infantryman, the Jameses had discussed whom to be notified if he was hurt or killed and where he wanted to be buried.

''I think it's something all infantry couples should discuss,'' Mrs. James said. ''I've never been to Arlington before. It was beautiful.''

Mrs. James, who is 21 years old, said she appreciated ''all the small details that have significance.''

Many of the names on the newer headstones belong to people who served at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, including Staff Sergeant Jamie L. Huggins and Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Beuhring. Air Force Staff Sergeant Scott D. Sather and Marine Corporal Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, who both died last year in Iraq, lie beside each other.

Sather, 29, died April 8, 2003, from a battlefield injury. He was a combat controller with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base.

Chanawongse died less than a month later. His was the first Buddhist funeral at Arlington in recent memory, Owens said. ''Along with the military honors that this corporal earned, he also had a full Buddhist monk burial rite done here," she said. "It was a two-day burial rite with gifts to be offered up the day before. We had the monks come and bless the area. It was a quite colorful time.''

Nearby are victims of a 1969 helicopter crash during the Vietnam War and the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, on October 12, 2000. The Cole was in port for refueling when a small boat filled with explosives was detonated beside the ship, blasting a hole in its side. Seventeen sailors died, and 39 were injured.

The burials range from people who died on active duty to military retirees and their widows. Two presidents - John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft - are buried in Arlington.

Families of deceased service members can choose the section of the cemetery they prefer, Owens said.

''In Arlington, when people see the rows and rows of headstones, it signifies service members standing in rank,'' she said. ''You can be laid to rest next to a Medal of Honor recipient, next to a four-star general, next to a private. It doesn't matter here. You are all laid to rest with honor. That's why you are here.''

Posted: 7 March 2004