Updated: November 4, 2011 11:09AM
WASHINGTON — The 620 acres of America’s most hallowed ground are all but filled up. The passing of the World War II generation, the aging of the Korea and Vietnam vets, and a decade of U.S. war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan make it likely that Arlington National Cemetery will be closed to any more burials in just 14 years.
An average of 20 funerals a day are pushing the total of graves in the ground and cremated remains in columbaria past 260,000, as more than 7,000 veterans qualified to rest at the historic cemetery choose to do so each year.
One plan is to clear out a ravine and a small field on one edge of the cemetery to add another 32 acres. But critics say the site is plagued by storm-water runoff that could erode the land holding the caskets. At best, estimates say, this section would add no more than eight years’ worth of burials.
The other plan is to move a highway and tear down a Navy complex that houses about 1 million square feet of office-space overflow from the nearby Pentagon. Hugely expensive, this option would extend Arlington’s life about 10 years.
There are 131 national cemeteries across the country and most of those still have space, though they don’t carry the prestige of Arlington.
Scripps Howard News Service