Arlington National Cemetery Gains Another Famed American in Kennedy

But the ceremonious November 1963 burial of President Kennedy catapulted Arlington National to fame.

"When President Kennedy died, for many people it was the first time they had ever seen Arlington because the burial was televised," said James Peters, a professor at the University of Kansas and author of "Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America's Heroes." "Suddenly people were aware of the cemetery and it changed everything."

Prior to President Kennedy's burial, Arlington attracted approximately 2 million visitors a year. In the year following, more than 8 million people visited the cemetery, according to Peters.

Due to an overwhelming number of requests for burials -- the cemetery buries an average of 27 people a day and was getting more than 100 requests per day after the president's burial -- Arlington officials changed the eligibility requirements.

Today, a person must have received an honorable discharge after 20 years of service in the military in order to be buried. Other ways to earn a spot in the coveted graveyard include being awarded several military honors, such as a purple heart, or being a former member of the armed services who also served an elective office in the U.S. government, such as Sen. Kennedy.

Sen. Kennedy was eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery because of two combined factors: He was honorably discharged after serving as a private first class in the U.S. Army in 1953 and was elected to a U.S. Government post.

The Saturday burial is quite unusual in the cemetery, which usually only operates on weekdays.

Military Elite Rest in Arlington

The majority of people buried in Arlington are political and military elite. The Kennedys are interred among four chief justices of the United States, including William Rehnquist, and eight associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The Kennedy brothers' burial plot is one of the two most oft-visited memorials in the cemetery -- the Tomb of the Unknowns is the other popular destination -- but the brothers' headstones are completely different.

President Kennedy, who was first buried in a different gravesite with a simple cross and white picket fence, was moved to permanent site in 1967 that is adorned with an eternal flame. The hillside behind his grave was built up to prevent onlookers from straying from the paved path.

Robert F. Kennedy's grave, yards from President Kennedy's, is decorated with a single cross.

Due to the underground utilities required to support his brother's memorial, it was no small feat to find Sen. Kennedy a nearby plot. Planning for the burial began several weeks ago, at the urging of the Kennedy staff, according to a cemetery employee.

While it will be up the Kennedy family to determine what sort of headstone is placed at Sen. Kennedy's gravesite, private memorials still must be approved by cemetery officials.

According to John Metzler, the superintendent at Arlington National Cemetery, Sen. Kennedy's gravesite will be marked by Sunday morning with a "very modest" walkway leading to it. It will feature a wooden cross and a footstone until a "more substantial" memorial can be placed.

Areas where the other 300,000 people are buried -- for example the location reserved for Iraq war veterans -- are required to have regulation headstones that are white granite with tapered tops.

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