The Burial of (All) the Dead
Modern pressures on the military are often couched in the term “the toll of a decade of war.” But here, in Arlington, that toll is measured in centuries. The joint committal service of the McCormacks and four other service members recovered by the Making in America project, marked the opening of the cemetery’s ninth and largest columbarium court, an outdoor concrete garden-plaza for the committal of ashes.
Without the new, 2.5 acre, $12.9 million columbarium, the cemetery would have run out of space for ashes by 2016. (Cemetery officials say that Arlington may completely run out of room by 2050.) For now, it’s 20,000 blank marble slabs; chilling to think that over the next decades they will be mostly filled.
Colvin was wearing a biker vest as the crowd milled around the columbarium, but his wife, Dianna, was in full Victorian-era funeral garb, black lace, bonnet, and all. If the McCormacks had wives (and had died during the war), this is what the women would have worn to the funeral. “Today, we are the family” is a common refrain of the Missing in America members, something Dianna is taking to literal heart. “I just wanted to be appropriate, down to the type of material, to represent the family,” she said.
Initially seen as a short-term project, Salanti now wonders if the project can ever end. However many unclaimed veterans there are, a great many more are out there who were not in the military, their names also lost to history. While the Missing in America Project does not seek to get them interred, they are still added to the database.
“That’s the sad crux of this whole problem: We’re identifying the veterans … because it is easy to get state laws passed for veterans,” Salanti says. “But we maintain a database of everyone we inventory, and someday I’m going to go back knocking.”