Arlington National Cemetery is undergoing its first expansion in more than a decade that will add 26,000 new graves and 40 acres to the hallowed grounds.
YET THE crews cutting down trees and turning over earth to make way for the projects have proven a disruption for some visitors.
"It's loud," said Martin Forest, a Texan who arrived at the Cemetery on Friday. "I feel bad for the people who come here for funerals and have to hear it."
Others didn't mind.
"I think it's wonderful that our soldiers and sailors will still be buried here," said Colleen Martin of Boston.
According to Laurie Calvillo, a spokeswoman for the cemetery, the expansion was planned in 1990 but delayed because of budget constraints. Crews began work in May and the task of readying the land for burials is expected to last about three years. Two phases are planned for the project, Calvillo said. The first calls for the laying of access roads, clearing land and connecting utilities to the added sites. Phase two entails the creation of a new boundary wall that will also serve as a place of internment for 5,000 urns of cremated ashes from the veterans of World War II. Calvillo said the timetable for the project's completion depends on how long it takes for the wall to settle into the ground. The total project costs are estimated at $8 million, said Calvillo.
Arlington Cemetery already houses an estimated 215,000 graves belonging to American military personnel and their family members. Along with them, Presidents Kennedy and Taft, Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Thurgood Marshall and Civil Rights leader Medger Evers are buried there.
The new expansion will not include new monuments other than grave markers. The last time the cemetery grew was in 1995, when it added 10 acres.
CALVILLO SAID the cemetery — where about 6,500 funerals are performed every year — has two other expansions in planning. One will grant the cemetery land a picnic area at Ft. Myer to the North, in 2008. A second is expected to fill the land around the Navy Annex building near the Pentagon.
The cemetery has been competing for land to grow in recent years. In 2004, it was vying for a site near the Pentagon where many local leaders of the African American community want to build a black history museum. The land was the original site of Freedman's Village, a camp of liberated black slaves formed after the Civil War.