Giving the Benefit of Burial

Article excerpt

The scandal of America's national-cemetery system for veterans continues. Although the question of eligibility for burial in Arlington National Cemetery was spelled out in the House of Representatives by the passage of HR70 in March and the bill is making its way through the Senate, the question of the future of Arlington and the 114 other national cemeteries as a key veteran's benefit languishes.

At a heating held just before Memorial Day by the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Chairman Terry Everett of Alabama complained that the Clinton administration had failed to budget for proper maintenance of the shrines to our national heroes or to make concrete plans to handle the expected increase in burials as the complement of World War II and Korean War vets ages.

Even Arlington Cemetery, which hosts some 4 million visitors a year, is blighted by cracked and heaving pavements, displaced curbing and deteriorated structures. Subcommittee members viewed slides of weeds growing in cracks in the paved area of the columbarium, rusted and corroded pumps and machinery under the JFK memorial and a collapsed ceiling in the chapel near the Tomb of the Unknowns (see inset).

But 59 other historic cemeteries dating from the Civil War period have aging infrastructures and other more recently established memorials need attention as well. "The instances of dirty and tilting headstones, crumbling walkways and deteriorating cemetery buildings make me ashamed that our country is not taking better care of its national shrines," says Everett. …