Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.
Early on, the responsibility of laying to rest the remains of America's war veterans was first given to its garrison commanders, making it their responsibility to lay to rest the remains of men in their units.
The guidelines were simple. Find an area on the garrison's post and designate it as the garrison cemetery. Along with that, the commanders were also informed to place a wooden board marker with the soldier's identification number along with his name, and if space permitted, the soldier's rank could be added. The commander was reimbursed through the quartermaster of the Army, $1.23 for each wooden grave marker. Along with that, they were also required to have the top of the marker rounded. Some believed it was to maintain the life of the marker, and others felt a rounded top would keep any enemy who overran the garrison from sitting on the markers and disgracing the buried.
With the end of the Civil War, our country was given the responsibility to try to recover each and every soldier that was buried near the battlefield of the town which had claimed his life. Many southerners demanded that their southern-born sons or husbands be brought back to the south, along with may from the northern states feeling the same. With more than 100,000 requests for such moves, Congress determined that a network of national cemeteries should be constructed, which would accommodate this massive project.
The National Cemetery
Under the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Cemetery was the designation for the department that would be in charge of operating 147 military cemeteries across the United States.
"National Cemetery" is a designation for the 147 nationally important cemeteries in the United States.
A military cemetery is a cemetery with the graves of military personnel, spouses, and/or other family members as detailed in the National Cemetery Administration eligibility requirements.
The National Cemetery Administration is a department designed to maintain military cemeteries under the Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Cemetery Administration is responsible for maintaining 131 of the 147 national cemeteries.
The department of the Army maintains two military cemeteries, one being the Arlington National Cemetery and the other being the United States Soldiers and Airmen's Home National Cemetery.
The National Parks Service is responsible for maintaining 14 national cemeteries, mostly located near historical battlefield or battlefield towns.
United States Overseas Cemeteries
There are a total of 24 United States overseas cemeteries.
United States Burial at Sea
United States burial at sea is very seldom used today, yet official paperwork is still available for this burial service. Burial at sea is a naval ceremony when a sailor, marine, or American who had lost their life while serving on a U.S. Naval ship was buried at sea.
Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery is located in Arlington county, Virginia, directly across from the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial. This National Cemetery is showcased by the United States Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial. Arlington's 624 acres are the final resting place for many Civil War fallen soldiers, along with the bodies from fallen warriors from wars or the government's prior disputes or wars. It was initially started during the Civil War era on the grounds of the Arlington House. The Arlington House was the estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee, who was a great granddaughter of Martha Washington. The Arlington grounds were established May 13, 1864 are open to the public. They are run by the United States Army. There are 400,000 grave sites. To locate a grave, use www.findagrave.com
The Arlington Grounds
The United States actually purchased Arlington National Cemetery grounds at a U.S. tax sale in 1864 for $26,800, which in today's money would be a little over $400,000. Mrs. Mary Anna (Custis) Lee, the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, had actually sent an agent to pay the $92.07 tax to have it paid on time, but the government agents would not accept the $92.07 that was due in taxes. Mrs. Lee took this issue to court to get back the land she had inherited. It took a Supreme Court decision 5-4 in 1882 to give back the land to Mary Anna (Custis) Lee. Upon receiving the court's decision, Mrs. Lee then resold the property to the United States for $150,000, which in today's money would be $3,221,364.
Interesting items about Arlington Cemetery
The first president to speak at Arlington was Herbert Hoover on May 30, 1926. Mr. Morill Worchester initially donated wreaths for Arlington. Now a group called Wreaths Across America makes it their mission to decorate all of the veterans' graves.
Arlington is basically divided into 70 sections, each section designated for eras, conflicts, and special designations. Here are just a few sections: section 21 - nurses, section 60 - global war on terror, section 02 - George Washington, section 45 - John F. Kennedy, section 7A - Joe Louis, and section 31 - women in the military. Other areas of interest one may want to visit: Chaplains Hill, which buries military chaplains Jewish, Protestant and Catholic; and the Confederate section with its monument, where Confederate soldiers were laid to rest.
Next week: Part two.