Arlington National Cemetery Facts

Tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery

Whether you are a history buff or just curious, it's always interesting to learn some Arlington National Cemetery facts. This national cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia, has such a rich history, that it's only natural to want to know more about its background and traditions.

About Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is one of two national cemeteries administered by the U.S. Army, with Solders' Home National Cemetery located in Washington, D.C. As of 2018, more than 400,000 individuals were buried there, with about 6,400 interred or inurned (cremated) each year.

Veterans from all of the nation's conflicts and wars are buried at Arlington, from the American Revolution to the Iraq war. Those who died before the Civil War were interred at Arlington National Cemetery after 1900. Section 60, an additional plot of land within the cemetery but across the Potomac River, houses graves for those killed in some of the most recent conflicts including Afghanistan. There are many civilians buried at the cemetery as well, notables who were honored for their work or service to the United States.

Burial Eligibility Requirements

Arlington National Cemetery's burial and inurnment requirements are extremely detailed and identification of the deceased is expected before final plans are made. To be buried at Arlington, individuals must be:

  • An active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces (not for training-only purposes, however)
  • Retired active military
  • Retired from the Armed Force Reserves by the age of 60 and drawing a retired pay
  • Any veteran honorably discharged before October 1, 1949 for medical reasons and who was rated 30 percent or greater disabled
  • Veteran who was awarded:
    • Purple Heart
    • Silver Star
    • Distinguished Service Medal
    • Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross or Navy Cross
    • Medal of Honor
  • President or former President of the United States
  • Former member of the Armed Forces who actively served and was also:
    • Elected U.S. official
    • Office of Chief Justice or Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Former prisoner of war who was actively and honorably serving during his or her capture
  • The spouse, widow or widower or minor of an active duty or veteran member of the Armed Forces

However, this is only a partial list of requirements. For a complete list, which includes facts about on paperwork required, religious services and other policies, please visit the cemetery's website.

Famous and Distinguished Persons Buried at Arlington

While every veteran, civilian or member of the U.S. Armed Forces buried at Arlington National Cemetery is considered distinguished for the service they did honoring this country, there are also a quite a few notables buried there:

  • U.S. President William Howard Taft
  • U.S. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
  • Abner Doubleday - Civil War general who also is the man behind the game of baseball
  • Glenn Miller - U.S. Army major and famous bandleader
  • Audie Murphy - Most decorated U.S. combat soldier from World War II and Hollywood actor
  • U.S. Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, William O. Douglas and Potter Stewart
  • Robert F. Kennedy -- U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator from New York
  • Bill Mauldin -- Political cartoonist
  • Ruth G. Bradley -- U.S. Army colonel and one of the most decorated military women in history, with 34 medals
  • Maureen O'Hara -- Actress; buried near husband Charles Blair, Jr., U.S Air Force Brigadier General and Navy aviator Captain
  • Joe Lewis -- Former boxing champ
  • John Glenn -- Astronaut and Senator

Didn't see someone who you thought was buried there? Since the number of those buried and inurned at Arlington increases daily, the list will never be complete. But here is a listing of some of the most distinguished persons buried there.

Arlington Cemetery History Facts

Arlington Cemetery has a rich history. Here are just a few of the interesting historical facts about this national cemetery:

  • John Kennedy Grave and Arlington House
    View of John F. Kennedy Grave and Arlington House
    The first burial was on May 13, 1864 for Private William Christman, who was actually buried there prior to the official order designating it a national cemetery.
  • The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded around the clock by the "Old Guard," the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, which was formed in 1784.
  • It was in the third year of the Civil War that burial land started running out in the D.C. area; Arlington Cemetery set aside plots exclusively for military members as a result.
  • The step-grandson of George Washington (George Washington Parke Custis) built Arlington House starting in 1802, which now serves as a memorial for Robert E. Lee.
  • In 1868, Arlington Cemetery hosted the very first Memorial Day commemoration.

More Arlington National Cemetery Facts

Here are some more tidbits of information you may not have known about Arlington National Cemetery:

  • Each year, more than four million people visit the cemetery.
  • About 28 burials are performed each day.
  • All of the headstones face East and have the Washington Memorial in the background.
  • Three special services are held each year -- Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day -- and draws more than 5,000 visitor each time.
  • A U.S. flag, the Declaration of Independence and an autographed picture of President Woodrow Wilson are just a few of the many items placed inside of the cemetery's cornerstone, which was placed in the cemetery in 1915.
  • The Tomb of the Unknowns contains the graves of four individuals who fought in the following conflicts: World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.
  • A memorial marker honoring the crew members who perished aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger is located within the cemetery and contains the remains of all seven members.

When Will Arlington Cemetery Be Full?

By most estimates, Arlington Cemetery will be at capacity by the year 2043. Eligibility rules may be tightened soon to make it more difficult to obtain a spot at the national cemetery, thereby slowing the influx of burial requests. Unfortunately, geographic limitations make it nearly impossible to expand the cemetery any further so there will indeed come a time when it is full.

An Unforgettable Experience

If you ever get a chance to visit this historic cemetery, by all means, do so. It will be an experience you will not soon forget as you encounter graves that tell myriad stories. It's a place unlike any other when it comes to appreciating the sacrifice of fallen service members.

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Arlington National Cemetery Facts