(CNN) – Some 22 million veterans and service members are currently eligible for burial at the historic Arlington National Cemetery, but officials say they are running out of space.
Proposed new rules will still allow burial for those killed in action and recipients of the highest awards such as the Medal of Honor but others, such as retirees and veterans, will have to choose cremation and an urn above ground.
Across the rolling green lawns of Arlington are the final resting places for more than 400,000 active-duty troops, veterans and their families.
“The story of those remembered today is one of extraordinary sacrifice, it’s a story of lives cut short, of hopes and dreams never realized,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said.
For more than 150 years, these hallowed grounds have recorded the history of America’s veterans.
One thousand, five hundred of the first black combat soldiers who served in the Civil War were laid to rest here. Presidents are here, and so are hundreds of young troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, however, the march of time has caught up.
We want to stay open for 150 more years, so not just our current generation, but that 5-year-old who is going to raise his or her hand one day to serve this nation, we also want to be available for them for our future,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director at Arlington National Cemetery.
The numbers alone are staggering. There are 22 million living armed forces members and veterans who are eligible for burial, but less than 95,000 burial spaces remain.
It’s a sensitive issue for today’s younger veterans.
“I’ve talked to quite a few veterans about this issue and mixed reactions but mainly a big sense of disappointment that this is signaling that this is coming to an end, and I think that most veterans would like to be able to see the possibility that maybe they might be able to be buried there. I know I certainly would like to myself,” said Thomas Porter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
But Arlington officials said there simply is no choice. Expansion and changes are vital.
“We will fill up. So without a change in criteria, we will be closed in about the year 2041,” Durham-Aguilera said.