Arlington National Cemetery spans over 639 acres. Across the rolling hills you will see a variety of grave markers that are almost as unique as the stories of the service members whose names are inscribed on the stones.
The small rectangular white marble markers are issued by the Department of Veteran Affairs. They are free to service members for their service to the country. Today, the government-issued headstones are 24 inches tall, 4 inches thick, 13 inches wide and they weigh about 230 pounds. The government-issued headstones have evolved over the years. Originally the government used wooden grave markers, but they quickly realized that the cost to replace the wood, over time, would be astronomical. The government chose two cost effective materials—marble and galvanized iron coated with zinc.
The headstone for Captain Daniel Keys is the only iron “Meigs” marker at the cemetery. The iron markers were called “Meigs” markers because Quarter Master General Montgomery C. Meigs was in charge of providing headstones for fallen soldiers. Eventually the marble marker won out over the iron one. The original marble marker was a smaller version of what you see today.
Among the government-issued headstones are private markers which are paid for by family, friends, and private organizations. Some of the private markers are so large and elaborate that the cemetery decided to ban them in the newer sections. One such example is the fully functional Civil War era cannon for Major General Randolph Wallace found in section one.
Various other headstones include group burial markers for the co-mingled remains of service members (check back next month for more information on group markers) and memorial markers which have no remains because the service member was not recovered or his/her remains were buried at sea. The cemetery also has a niche wall and nine columbarium courts which hold urns for cremated remains.
Come ride the tram tour to see the vast variety of markers and to hear the stories of our brave men and women!
Amanda Varnam Arlington National Cemetery Narrator, driver, trainer and dispatcher.