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Monday, May 25, 2015

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis

  had never been to a national cemetery even though I have worked at a VA hospital in some capacity since 1983.  Before I visited the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery last month, I thought that Arlington was a national cemetery, but it is not part of the system.  I also would have thought that Gettysburg had some connection, but again have been wrong.  So my visit to St. Louis was eye opening.  Jefferson Barracks is named for Thomas Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826.  The facility was commissioned in 1827, soon after his death, and it was made part of the fourteen national cemeteries that Abraham Lincoln created in 1862. 
ISo a part of the cemetery pre-dates the Civil and it is an obviously different part of the cemetery.    Days family could erect their own monuments, so it is a mish mash.  The Confederate soldiers wanted pointed gravestones so that Union soldiers could not sit on them.  Some grave markers are smalls, some are large, and some are not white.  In the beginning, the cemetery was largely populated by children who had died.

The more modern part of the cemetery, meaning World War I onward, has the grave markers all the same size and shape and color.  They are set at exactly the same height and they are roughly the same color of marble.  The cemetery orders from only three quarries.  There is a standard that 90% of them need to be in line, and it is impressive to look over hill after hill and see that uniformity.  The other thing that I did not know is that spouses can be buried with the veteran.  They stack them.  First in goes 7 feet deep, next one 5 feet down.  The veteran’s name is on the front of the marker and the spouse on the back.

Finally, the group graves are interesting.  A common grave is used when the remains are comingled and cannot be identified or separated.  The common situation is a plane crash or a fire, but the other situation is cremated prisoners of war who were found in Japanese POW camps.  That is why there are group graves with the remains of international soldiers.  A very cool experience, and since there are 130+ national cemeteries nationwide and some overseas are well worth seeking out.

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