Military chaplains of four faiths recited prayers over bowls of earth yesterday to consecrate a new national cemetery at Quantico, Va., 35 miles south of Washington, which one official said is destined to become "the Arlington annex."
As the famous Arlington National Cemetery nears its capacity, the new 726-acre cemetery carved out of the Quantico Marine Corps base will provide space to bury 216,000 veterans and their dependents when it opens in May 1982. At the present rate of 12 to 14 burials a day at Arlington, that cemetery will run out of space about the year 2015.
Robert Hammond, deputy director of cemetery service for the Veterans Administration, predicted that Quantico National Cemetery will be "quite opens.
max Cleland, the triple-amputee Vitenam War veteran who is director of the VA, told an audience of several hundred who gathered at the Marine Corps Base chapel for yesterdaay's ceremony that Quantico is part of an expansion of the national cemetery system that will double the number of burial sites in the next five years.
As Cleland quoted Abraham Lincoln's "hallowed ground" remarks from the Gettysburg Address, serveral in the audience, which included active duty marines, Gold Star mothers and veterans of several wars, dabbed at tears.
Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.), who sponsored the authorizing legislation, said he was "especially pleased" that the new cemetary "will be available to any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, regardless of rank or length of service.
Harris said most of the 700,000 veterans who live in the Washington area are ineligible for burial at Arlington because it is restricted to acitve duty or retired career military personnel, or winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart, and their spouses and minor children.
Calvin McCoy, administrator of Arlington Cemetary, doubted, however, that the opening of Quantico would relieve much of the demand for burials at Arlington because of the different eligibility standards.
McCoy said Arlington is attempting to compensate for the lack of burial space by setting aside space for the ashes of 100,000 cremated bodies. A columbarium (for ashes) will be dedicated on April 26, and the first 5,000 nitches will be available after that date, McCoy said.
The VA acquired supervision of 107 national cemeteries (all but Arlington and the Soldiers Home National Cemetery here) from the Army in 1973. Since then, the VA has opened new cemeteries on Long Island and in California, and has plans for others on Cape Cod (the first in New England), Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. About 1.5 million veterans and their relatives are buried in national cemeteries in 33 states.
Expansion of the cemetery system is "long overdue," according to Sarah Saunders, president of the Gold Star Mothers of Virginia. She said many relatives find it inconvenient to visit Arlington. Her son, Warrant Officer Nicholas G. Saunders, a helicopter pilot killed in Vietnam in 1970, is buried in a national cemetery in California, his home state.
Luther D. Dansberger, who suffered a leg injury "with Patton" in World War II, said he would "rather be buried here (Quantico) than at Arlington. It's for the VIPs."
Patrick Viggiano, 63, of Manassas Park, another WW II veteran, said he's "not hoping to die yet," but agreed that the opening of Quantico "sure is a good idea."