Arlington National Cemetery

Updated November 11, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Image by Carol Highsmith

Arlington National Cemetery occupies 612 acres in Virginia on the Potomac River, directly opposite Washington. This land was part of the estate of John Parke Custis, Martha Washington's son. His son, George Washington Parke Custis, built the mansion which later became the home of Robert E. Lee. In 1864, Arlington became a military cemetery. More than 240,000 service members and their dependents are buried there. Expansion of the cemetery began in 1966, using a 180-acre tract of land directly east of the present site.

Among the many famous and distinguished people buried in the cemetery are presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy; a number of supreme court justices, including Chief Justice Earl Warren, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall; explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson; civil rights leader Medgar Evers; band leader Glenn Miller; and mystery writer Dashiell Hammett. There are also 3,800 Civil War “contrabands” (fugitive and liberated slaves) buried there, their headstones engraved only with “Civilian” or “Citizen.”

In 1921, an Unknown American Soldier of World War I was buried in the cemetery; the monument at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was opened to the public without ceremony in 1932. Two additional Unknowns, one from World War II and one from the Korean War, were buried May 30, 1958.

The Unknown Serviceman of Vietnam was buried on May 28, 1984. In June 1998 his body was disinterred and recent DNA-testing technology was used to identify him as First Lt. Michael Blassie, an Air Force pilot from St. Louis. It is possible that technology will prevent there from ever being another “unknown” buried in the tomb.

The inscription carved on the Tomb of the Unknowns reads:


Sources +