Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Military Gravesites `Row on Row' Encountering Numbers Crunch

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Military Gravesites `Row on Row' Encountering Numbers Crunch

Article excerpt

The United States is running out of room to bury its honored dead.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veterans Administration), there are about 27 million living veterans honorably discharged from active duty, all eligible for burial in the 114 national cemeteries across the country. But only about 220,000 casket spaces remain, and enough room for the cremated remains of 50,000 others.

As the World War II veteran population ages, burials are accelerating. More than 67,000 were buried in the national cemeteries last year, almost double the number buried in 1973. Cemetery officials expect the numbers to continue rising until about 2010.

Founded during the Civil War to accommodate that conflict's battlefield dead, the national cemeteries have buried 2 million veterans over the intervening 132 years. Easily that many today expect to find a place in the national cemeteries within the next decade.

Yet with the exploding demand for grave sites, 56 of the 114 cemeteries already have run out of plots and another dozen will reach capacity by the end of this decade.

As a result, the Department of Veterans Affairs is hurriedly buying additional burial space, developing new national cemeteries in Albany, N.Y., Cleveland, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, extending nine existing cemeteries and is hunting for land elsewhere.

Last year, it spent $3.7 million for new land and budgeted $14.2 million for construction.

"This is the biggest challenge the system has faced since the Civil War," said William Jayne, a National Cemetery System spokesman.

Little of this frenzy is evident at the Hampton national cemetery, where a gentle sea breeze stirs massive 130-year-old oaks and rhododendrons. The ordered ranks of dazzling white marble headstones stretch toward the old stone walls that mark the grounds off from neighboring power plants and freeways. …

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