Military camp, hospital, family home, freed slave village—a 624-acre plot in Arlington, Virginia, has served many uses. Most notably, since 1864, the land has held some our nation’s most celebrated war heroes. Now this famous burial ground is running out of room, and the Army is hoping to breathe new life into Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).
Arlington is the final resting place of over 400,000 service members. The site conducts nearly 30 funeral ceremonies every day. It is the only cemetery with a participant from every U.S. war buried on its grounds.
Visitors marvel at the row upon row of white marble headstones marking gravesites. They seem to stretch endlessly. However, Arlington is low on space. In-ground burial is already restricted. Not even all World War II veterans can be buried there. (See “WASPs in Arlington?”) Without a plan, ANC could run out of plots in about 25 years.
Officials have known for years about the shrinking cemetery space. But figuring out how to create more land in the crowded Washington, D.C., area proved a puzzle almost worthy of the biblical King Solomon. (1 Kings 3:16-28) It was up to the city of Arlington, the Department of the Army, and Virginia’s Department of Transportation to engineer a win-win-win.
A plan emerged. The Army would annex a Department of Defense site along the south side of ANC. Then it would take about nine acres from Arlington County and realign two existing county roads. The changes would create a single connecting 49-acre tract of land beside the existing cemetery.
Taking county land for the expansion got Congressional approval. After all, the U.S. Constitution allows governments to exercise “eminent domain” or “rights of condemnation.” That’s legal-speak for seizing private property for public use—provided the government gives fair and reasonable payment.
In June, the Justice Department began “condemning” nine acres of Arlington County land for the expansion. The government will “pay” the county by building facilities, reengineering streets, burying power lines, and installing new bike paths, landscaping, and sidewalks.
With the extra acreage, ANC will be able to add about 50,000 plots. However, under some circumstances, Arlington officials may also further limit entry of deceased veterans and their spouses to the nation’s best-known burial ground. Such restrictions could extend ANC’s usefulness—and allow the cemetery’s legacy to live on.