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Arlington Wall Speaks to Ages Through 'Terms of Endearment'

Looking south along the Niche Wall at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Tim1965/Wikimedia)
Looking south along the Niche Wall at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Tim1965/Wikimedia)

The "Terms of Endearment" on the wall for cremated veterans' remains at Arlington National Cemetery speak to generations to come of the character of those honored to rest at America's "Last Bivouac."

The brief messages permitted by the U.S. Army to be placed by families range from the solemn to the whimsical.

There's the one for an Army Sergeant recalled as a "Beloved Husband, Father, Soldier," and the one for an Air Force Master Sergeant, "Our Hero." Then there's the one for a Marine Lance Corporal who will now be remembered as the "Coolest Guy in Town."

Some have the nicknames that the veteran went by -- "Airport Jack," and "Catfish Bob," and "Butch," and the Air Force Staff Sergeant who served in World War II known as the "Irishman."

Then there are the favorite sayings of the veteran, maybe to a wife or mother, maybe to a girlfriend. The inscription for a World War II soldier said "Here's Looking At You, Kid," which was the line Humphrey Bogart used to say goodbye to Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca."

All of the inscriptions and sayings were indicative of what President Barack Obama has called the singular "American character" embodied by the nation's veterans.

In his last Veterans Day Proclamation as president, Obama said, "The example our nation's veterans set throughout their lives is a testament to the drive and perseverance that define the American character. On this day and throughout the year, may we sustain their lasting contributions to our nation's progress and carry forward their legacy by building a future that is stronger, safer, and freer for all."

What is called the "Niche Wall" for urns of cremated remains, or "inurnment," was dedicated on Dec. 9, 2008, in the continuing effort to save space at the 612-acre cemetery, which will eventually run out of places for in-ground burials.

At the dedication ceremony, then-Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said, "We'll come to a point where we won't have the capability to bury anyone." As a result, more than half of the interments at Arlington are now of cremated remains.

The 6-foot high, $5.6 million fieldstone wall now extends for a half-mile just off McClellan Circle in the eastern sector of the cemetery next to Route 110. It has space for the remains of more than 6,500 veterans.

The urns have to fit in receptacles 10 inches wide, 13 inches high and 18 inches deep. The rules for inscriptions on the "niche covers" under Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations and Army Regulation 290-5 essentially boil down to the good taste and propriety of the families or the primary next of kin, said Courtney Dock, an Arlington spokeswoman.

The niche covers have room for 10 lines of text, generally of 13 characters each. Most of the space is taken up by the name, ranks, dates of birth and death, service, theaters of war, and awards but "if space permits, two lines are available for an additional inscription at the bottom of the niche cover."

From a brief walk along the Niche Wall, it appeared that families were becoming increasingly creative with the bottom two lines for their "Terms of Endearment."

A soldier in Vietnam was remembered as an "Eagle Among Sparrows." The inscription for an Army Sergeant in Korea was "Love Never Dies." An Air Force sergeant was urged by his family to "Fly High PopPop." Some of the inscriptions were lines from once popular songs. A Navy veteran of Vietnam had the inscription "Until The 12th Of Never."

Other inscriptions included "Following The Music," "For The Good Times," "Few Words Many Deeds," "Always A Smile," "With A Toast And A Song," "Happy Pappy Photographer," and "Until We Meet Again."

Then there were two that should apply to all veterans, everywhere -- "You Are Not Forgotten," and "Good Night Sweet Prince."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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