ANNAPOLIS – Maryland veterans won’t find burial space in the state’s national cemeteries – they’re out of room – but there are still some options for an in-state interment.
National cemeteries in Baltimore, Annapolis and Loudon Park are at “closed status,” said Robin Pohlman, Baltimore National Cemetery director. Just 400 cremation sites remain for burials in Baltimore, said Pohlman.
But veterans seeking a final place among their comrades don’t yet have to look out of state.
Five state cemeteries run by the Maryland Office of Veterans Affairs have plenty of openings. Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills is the largest state military cemetery and second largest veterans cemetery in the nation with 90.5 acres of burial space. About half the cemetery’s gravesites are available, enough space for the next 17 years, said Kenneth McKissett, cemetery superintendent.
Eligibility requirements for burial at national and state cemeteries are similar. Honorably discharged veterans who served in active duty are eligible for burial in a national cemetery. Those serving after 1980 also must fulfill a minimum service requirement.
State cemeteries add state residency to the above criteria. Burial at state cemeteries requires Maryland residency for at least 20 years, state residency at the time of military entry, or death while living in Maryland.
Maryland veteran Tom Davis, adjutant of the state American Legion, has already made arrangements at a state cemetery.
“I understand (the shortage), because realistically, there is only so much space,” said Davis, who served in Korea and Germany from 1963-1966.
Burial applications have not increased since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan, said state cemetery directors.
The national cemetery space shortage does not distress most veterans, said Jack McLaughlin, a Vietnam War Army veteran.
“You are still being buried among your comrades,” said McLaughlin, also the assistant adjutant at the American Legion Department of Maryland.
It is estimated that more than 663,400 veterans will die in 2001, according to data from the National Cemetery Administration. Veterans’ deaths are expected to peak at 683,900 in 2006.
American Legion members in Maryland said action should be taken to ensure room is available for veterans entitled to burial in national cemeteries since thousands – mostly World War II veterans – die each day.
More property must be purchased to avoid further space issues at Maryland’s national cemeteries, said Jim Fischl, American Legion veterans affairs and rehabilitation director.
“The problem would certainly be in the future,” said Fischl, because space is still available in Maryland cemeteries.
Maryland has 78,000 American Legion members with the largest concentration in Parkville, Hagerstown and Greenbelt. The legion’s national commander, Richard J. Santos, is a Vietnam War Navy veteran from Greenbelt.
Baltimore National Cemetery’s 72 acres contains 36,185 gravesites, while Loudon Park and Annapolis are full with 6,497 and 2,945 sites respectively.
Maryland boasts three of the 14 original national cemeteries, at Annapolis, Loudon Park and Antietam, which, as a Civil War battle-site park, is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior. They were all established in the early 1860s.