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WWW.Huh?: Arlington Web Site a Wealth of Information

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., May 18, 2000 – Since 1864, the 200 acres of land surrounding Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's hilltop mansion, Arlington House, have been hallowed ground, a place for our nation to mourn its fallen heroes and honor their service. Nearly 4 million people visit Arlington National Cemetery each year, and now, through technology, the cemetery is within reach of those around the world who can't travel here.

Unveiled in April, the cemetery's Internet Web site, www.arlingtoncemetery.org, is a wealth of practical and historical information.

"Actually, you could get most of the information before from the Military District of Washington's Web site," said Tom Mani, MDW's command information officer. "But since the cemetery is such a well-recognized national shrine, we felt it deserved its own main-door entrance to the Internet."

A handy menu bar with a picture of a military firing party spans the top of each page in this attractive, easy-to- navigate site. The light gray background is reminiscent of the white marble used in the cemetery's government-issued headstones.

Following the menu bar through the site, the information ranges from extremely useful to extremely interesting and seems to cover all the bases. The first location on the menu bar, simply titled "map," doesn't actually include any maps but does feature driving directions to the cemetery from several different locations. The first paragraph includes the cemetery's Zip code to make it easier to access the necessary information on any of the available computer programs or Internet mapping sites.

Next on the menu bar is "visitor information," which includes information on the Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The section on the amphitheater describes the annual Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies held there that most often bring the cemetery into the public spotlight.

Did you know the Tomb of the Unknowns was never officially named as such? Neither did I until I read the section on the Tomb in the Web site. This section includes information on how each "unknown" was selected for interment at Arlington and the events leading up to the funeral for each -- moving stories all, that make one wish to have witnessed the events.

Another "visitor information" page contains general facts about the cemetery. It describes the Freedman's Village that was adjacent to the cemetery in the late 19th century and Section 27 of the cemetery in which 3,800 former slaves, called "contrabands" during the Civil War, are buried. Their headstones are inscribed with "citizen" or "civilian" instead of a military rank. This page also includes information on two U.S. Capitol Police officers buried in the cemetery after they were killed in the line of duty July 24, 1998.

The third location on the menu bar, "funeral information," contains the site's true purpose, according to the cemetery superintendent. "We are just inundated with phone calls and letters from veterans and their families looking for information on burial here," John Metzler said. "Now the first thing we ask someone who calls is if they have access to the Internet."

He said most people are thrilled to have a place to go to get all the information spelled out. "We've done an awful lot of work to try to make the information user-friendly and to answer the most frequently asked questions," Metzler said. If individuals indicate they're not comfortable with the Web or have no access, the cemetery staff still answers their questions over the phone.

The "funeral information" section spells out the oft- complex rules surrounding burial in Arlington. For instance, service members who die on active duty may be interred at Arlington unless the active duty period was for training only. Service members who die while on active duty for training may, however, have their ashes inurned in the cemetery columbarium. All these rules and information about the steps to take when a loved one dies are explained in detail in this section of the Web site.

The "ceremonies" section explains several aspects of military ceremonies, such as the origin of the 21-gun salute and Taps. This section also explains "Flags-in," the annual practice of placing American flags on each grave for Memorial Day, and the training involved in becoming a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The "historical information" section is somewhat misleading. This section only includes an article on the history of Arlington House. The rest of the section covers detailed information on individuals buried in Arlington, public officials, historical figures and groups of minorities, as well as veterans of various conflicts throughout American history.

The last section, the "photo gallery," contains more than two dozen photos of the cemetery grounds, Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, and burial and memorial services.

Metzler said the site will evolve constantly based on public feedback. "As people ask us questions about people buried here or significant events here, that's how we find out what we need to put on our Web site," he said. "The public will guide you right to what you need."

And this theory has already been put to the test with positive results. When the site first went up, it didn't include information on President Kennedy's grave. The information was added to the Web site immediately after someone mentioned the oversight, Metzler said.

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