Like many folks, The Peripatetic Graveyard Rabbit has many relatives buried in national cemeteries. A few months ago, someone asked The PGR about the history of the national cemeteries.
In 1864, Congress passed a bill that authorized the President to acquire lands for national cemeteries. The Government established fourteen national cemeteries in the first year of authorization. In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened the 141st national cemetery, the South Florida National Cemetery at Lake Worth, Florida.
The 141 national cemeteries have more than 3 million graves, with the potential to grow to 5 million. This is important because today there are more than 24 million veterans eligible for burial in national cemeteries. VA says that historically about 12% of veterans choose a national cemetery.
Left: The nation's busiest National Cemetery at Calverton, New York
The term "national cemetery" refers to lands under the jurisdiction of three different departments. Most (125) of the national cemeteries are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration. Fourteen are operated by the Department of the Interior's National Park Service. These are cemeteries that are associated with national historic battlefield sites like Gettysburg, with one exception being the national cemetery at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Tennessee. Except for the Andrew Johnson cemetery and the national cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia, all of the National Park Service-run cemeteries are closed to new burials.
Two of the national cemeteries are controlled by the Department of Defense through the Army. These are Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps the most well-known and most visited of the national cemeteries, and the cemetery at the Armed Forces Retirement Home (formerly the Soldiers and Sailors Home) in Washington, D.C.
In honoring our fallen troops, we should not forget that some are interred overseas. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains 24 cemeteries in foreign countries which contain the graves of 125,000 Americans.
Genealogy Research Tip: The VA National Cemetery Administration has a nationwide grave locator to find graves of veterans. This contains the names of almost all the veterans buried in VA and National Park Service national cemeteries. In addition, it also has the names of veterans buried in non-government cemeteries for graves marked with a VA-provided marker. One thing not to overlook is that spouses, minor children, and unmarried disabled adult children of eligible veterans can also be interred in national cemeteries, even before the death of the veteran. (I reference, for example, the heart-breaking case of my cousin-by-marriage who has had the misfortune of having outlived two wives, both of whom lie waiting for him in repose at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St Louis). The Park Service is planning to put Civil War veterans grave locations in its excellent Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database. The American Battle Monuments Commission also has a searchable database.
If there is a national cemetery in your area, please pay a visit one day soon to give your respects to those who have given service to the nation.
Right: The American Battle Monuments Commission's American Cemetery and Memorial at Ardennes, Belgium, contains graves of 5,329 U.S. military dead.
Photo Credits: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration; U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service; American Battle Monuments Commission (an agency of the U.S. Government).