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Academy cemetery sees increase in burial demands

Expansion project underway at West Point Cemetery

A view from the West Point Cemetery where graduates can rest in peace. Photo credit: Michelle Schneider

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It's not everyday one contemplates his or her mortality. However, the West Point Cemetery is where graduates can make their final resting place. Due to the Arlington National Cemetery filling up, its future closure has prompted the Cemetery Land Reclamation Project to expand the West Point Cemetery, giving graduates more burial options.

Once Building 697, or the old PX and gas station, is torn down, the West Point Cemetery will have an additional 2,156 in-ground cremation plots, 862 in-ground full plots and 468 niches. This project will not affect any of the businesses nearby like Starbucks and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fitness Center and their hours of operation will remain the same. Patrons can expect some parking issues in K Lot due to construction that is projected to conclude, Aug. 31, 2021.

In the meantime, Arlington is approaching max capacity since its first burial in 1864 and will be completely full by the mid-2050s. In order to keep the cemetery active for another 150 years, they developed a southern expansion project to add 37 acres in addition to stricter burial eligibility criteria. This is good or bad news depending on a service member's accomplishments and where they plan to be buried.

The following burial criteria was taken from an article written by Kerry Meeker. It can help West Point graduates determine if they are eligible to be buried in one of the 95,000 remaining spaces or future plots in the southern expansion. The Secretary of the Army was required by the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act to establish the revised eligibility criteria found below.

For below-ground interment:

  • Killed in Action, to include repatriated remains of service members
  • Award recipients of the Silver Star and above who also served in combat
  • Recipients of the Purple Heart
  • Combat-related service deaths while conducting uniquely military activities
  • Former Prisoners of War
  • Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States
  • Veterans with combat service who also served out of uniform as a government o?cial and made signi?cant contributions to the nation's security at the highest levels of public service.

For above-ground inurnment:

  • World War II-era veterans, to include legislated active-duty designees
  • Retirees from the Armed Forces who are eligible to receive retirement pay but are not otherwise eligible for interment
  • Veterans who have served a minimum of two years on active-duty and who have served in combat
  • Veterans without combat service who also served out of uniform as a government o?cial and made signi?cant contributions to the nation's security at the highest levels of public service.

Due to Arlington reaching a foreseeable max capacity, West Point Cemetery has seen an increase in demand which helped push the construction for its expansion along. But the U.S. Military Academy has its own restrictions regarding who is eligible to be buried there because it is not an ordinary veteran cemetery.

"If you are a graduate of West Point, you used to have the option of being buried in Arlington or West Point. But with the new restrictions in place, you may not have the opportunity to be buried in Arlington anymore," said Don Buda, the West Point assistant chief of staff for Logistics. "A veteran who has not graduated from West Point is not eligible to be buried here. It is only open to graduates and spouses of graduates."

Additional burial criteria for the West Point Cemetery aside from being a graduate: you must be a U.S. citizen, honorably discharged from the military, never convicted of a felony and spouses are eligible for burial regardless of who died first.

Buda also shared there are two phases of the expansion project. In order to get through the first one, there was a restriction placed between 2014-2019 that did not allow full-body ground burials unless a graduate had a Silver Star or higher. He said this restriction has been eliminated and the expansion project is officially in commencement at this very moment.

Graduates, veterans and active-duty service members have the option to be buried in one of the 137 Veterans Affairs national cemeteries and 115 state veterans' cemeteries. In the meantime, any worried West Point graduates can sleep easy knowing that a plot awaits them for their eternal slumber because of the expansion.

"This is huge for West Point graduates. It is making good on the promise the academy made that graduates can be buried here," West Point Cemetery Director Jen McSwain said. "A lot of the older generations remember that promise and many graduates lost faith that this development would happen, so I think it's going to be a pleasant surprise when they see it in black and white that construction has started. It is very important to extend service for them as long as we can."

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