13 little-known facts about Arlington National Cemetery
1. The property used for Arlington National Cemetery was an estate that was forcibly acquired from the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in 1864.
2. The first military burial at Arlington was William Henry Christman, who died of non-combat related illness, on May 13, 1864.
3. The first African-American to be buried there was William H. Johnson, an employee of President Lincoln.
4. In December 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Lee family’s favor that Arlington had been confiscated without due process. After that decision, Congress returned the estate, and on March 3, 1883 Custis Lee (Robert E. Lee’s eldest son) sold it back to the government for $150,000.
5. President Herbert Hoover conducted the first national Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, on May 30, 1929.
6. Arlington did not desegregate its burial practices until President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948.
7. Five state funerals have been held at Arlington: those of Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, his two brothers, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, and General of the Armies John J. Pershing.
8. U.S. presidents are eligible to be buried at Arlington whether or not they served on active duty since they oversaw the armed forces as commanders-in-chief.
9. The Tomb of the Unknowns has been perpetually guarded by the U.S. Army since July 2, 1937.
10. Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War was interred on May 28, 1984. President Ronald Reagan presided. The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were disinterred, under the authority of President Bill Clinton, on May 14, 1998, and were identified as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, whose family had them reinterred near their home in St. Louis, Missouri. Since that time the crypt at the Tomb of the Unknowns that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown has remained empty.
11. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently offers 57 authorized faith emblems for placement on markers to represent the deceased’s faith.
12. Prior to 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs did not allow the use of the pentacle as an “emblem of belief” on tombstones in military cemeteries. This policy was changed following an out-of-court settlement in April of that year.
13. Arlington National Cemetery conducts approximately 6,900 burials each year.