Freak 'Violent' Storm Damages Dozens of Arlington Tombstones

Neil W. McCabe

Crews at Arlington National Cemetery are working to clean up from the violent thunderstorm that on July 29 struck the final resting place for 400,000 veterans, spouses, and relatives, knocking down nearly 70 trees and damaging dozens of gravesites.

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“Arlington National Cemetery closed for four days due to severe tree damage throughout the cemetery,” the ANC public affairs office told RedState in an emailed response to questions.

“The safety and well-being of visitors, family pass holders, and employees was ANC's number one priority,” ANC PAO said. “The ANC Horticulture team and groundskeeping crew worked tirelessly to return ANC to its pristine condition.”

“We are still assessing the damage to determine how many graves were affected. If any government headstones are damaged, we will replace those,” they added. 

“Because of so many hard-to-identify broken tree limbs stuck in other trees, some estimates put the completion at six months after the storm.”

Although there were other severe thunderstorms during the summer, the July 29 storm, which hit between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., was the most destructive storm to hit the cemetery in many years.

“Since the storm hit at closing and only lasted about a half hour, the cemetery was not closed,” they said. The store was closed until Aug. 2, but no funeral services were canceled or delayed.

Arlington National Cemetery began in 1864 

Arlington National Cemetery did not become the resting place for American Soldiers immediately after Col. Robert E. Lee and his family left Arlington House on May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union and roughly a month after President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army—and roughly one month after the seize of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, started the Civil War

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The day the Lee family left the plantation, Union forces seized it for its position as high ground overlooking Washington proper. 

It was only after local cemeteries were running out of space that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued an order on June 15, 1864, that the Arlington House grounds become a military cemetery.

Although he controlled the property as the executor of the estate of his father-in-law George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of the first president, Lee never owned the property. It was inherited by Lee's wife Mary, and passed through her son George Washington Custis Lee. 

After his mother’s death, and after there were 18,000 Union soldiers buried on the grounds, Curtis Lee successfully sued the federal government under the takings clause of the 5th Amendment. In 1882, Curtis Lee sold the federal government the clear title to the grounds for $150,000.

Today, ANC is running out of space. There are 22 million service personnel and family members eligible for burial, but there is only space for another 80,000. 

When the southern expansion takes the cemetery to the edge of the Air Force Memorial in 2028, another 80,000 grave sites will be available, extending the time the cemetery reaches capacity from 2041 to 2060.

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In addition to the expansion of the cemetery grounds the Army is looking to restrict eligibility to soldiers killed in action or who were involved in the support of combat, recipients of the Silver Star or a more senior award, recipients of the Purple Heart, Prisoners of War, government officials who had combat service, presidents and vice presidents, and Medal of Honor recipients.

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