Four Fascinating Facts About Arlington National Cemetery

Today I'm privileged to be giving my first solo tour of Arlington National Cemetery. In conjunction with this event, I thought I'd post some interesting facts about this great national shrine - in the hopes that it'll help me remember what the heck I'm talking about. Away we go!

4. Who can be buried in Arlington? 

Glad you asked. Firstly, burial at Arlington is free-of charge but there's a long list of qualifications. Here are the biggies... 

  • Any active duty service member (from any branch).
  • Any retired service member formerly on active duty who is receiving retirement pay may be buried in-ground (those not receiving retirement pay may be interred in the columbarium or niche wall).
  • Any service member who has received the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross or the Distinguished Service Medal. 
  • American POWs who have died on or after 1993. 
  • Spouses and dependent children may be laid to rest with their service member

3. What are the headstones made of and why do they look the way they do? 

Made of either Georgia or Vermont marble, the headstones weigh 250 lbs., are 4 inches deep, 13 inches wide and 42 inches tall. The headstone may be adorned with one of over 50 religious symbols - or nothing at all. The stone also denotes the date of birth & death, the highest service rank attained, and any wars in which they participated as active duty service members.  Specially awarded medals will also be noted, as will the names of any spouse or dependent children buried alongside. Like soldiers in formation, the stones themselves are aligned in perfect rows and columns. 

2. How big is Arlington National Cemetery?

The Cemetery is a sprawling 624 acres and contains over 400,000 graves sites.  The number of grave sites is ever expanding with approximately 28 funeral services being held on the average day. 

1. How do you qualify to become a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

Tomb sentinels can be either men (at least 5'10") or women (at least 5'8") who are in the Army's 3rd Regiment (Old Guard) and they must volunteer. All prospective tomb sentinels, after passing a rigorous initial testing period, are evaluated in three key areas 1) Uniform 2) Knowledge and 3) Performance. As for their uniform, it must be kept in the highest state of order with nothing more 1/64" out of place. Knowledge-wise, a prospective tomb sentinel must memorize a 17 page packet filled with cemetery information and be able to write it out from memory with no more than 10 mistakes (including spelling and punctuation). From a performance standpoint, the sentinel's cadence and movement discipline at the tomb is critical - from foot placement to rifle handling, there are over 200 points of inspection.  The performance element is the toughest - only 10% of prospective sentinels pass this final hurdle.