McHugh relights JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery
By J.D. Leipold
Army News Service
WASHINGTON -- On a perfect fall morning at Arlington National Cemetery, Secretary of the Army John McHugh relit the eternal flame which marks the final resting places of John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
A flame has actually been burning continuously at the site since the president was buried there Nov. 25, 1963. It was originally lit by Mrs. Kennedy.
Recently, work began to upgrade the apparatus that keeps the flame illuminated. In order to make that happen, the flame was transferred to a nearby "temporary" eternal flame. Once the upgrade was complete, McHugh transferred the flame back.
The eternal flame has been burning now continuously for 50 years. The new hardware, more modern and efficient, will keep it burning so it may continue to be a beacon of hope and remembrance for all who see it, said Patrick K. Hallinan, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery.
"As a nation, we erect monuments and memorials to commemorate the people and events who define our values and ideals -- they are physical reminders of service, sacrifice and remembrance," Hallinan said.
"People from all over the world come to pay their respects to our 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, a combat veteran from World War II who served in the Navy," he said. "They come to visit a fellow military member, a president whose life was tragically cut short, and a man who inspired them.
"And, they come to see the eternal flame, the embodiment of hope and renewal, a symbol that is just as relevant today as it was then," Hallinan added.
A temporary eternal flame was lit April 29. It had been operating at the gravesite while a series of upgrades were made at the permanent eternal flame site. The Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District and its contracting partners conducted the work. They replaced the burner assembly and the supporting infrastructure including the gas, electric and compressed air lines for the flame.
"Essentially, it's same technology, pretty simple and elegant," said Col. Michelle Stewart, Arlington National Cemetery chief engineer. "The toughest part of the project was testing the flame. We wanted to ensure we recreated as much as possible the quality of the flame that burned previously for the last 50 years. So getting the gas and air mixture just right -- to add to the height of the flame, it's a good six inches of dancing flame, brightly colored -- we wanted to maintain that."
The engineers also installed new drainage lines below the flame and relocated the natural gas pressure regulators for easier access and maintenance.
Arlington will host a number of remembrance events in November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death and burial:
-- Nov. 15 -- Dec. 1, a special pictorial exhibit honoring Kennedy's legacy of public service will be on display in the basement of the Memorial Amphitheater.
-- Nov. 22, Arlington National Cemetery will conduct a wreath-laying remembrance at the JFK gravesite.
-- Nov. 25, the Irish Defence Forces 37th Cadet Class will conduct a remembrance ceremony at the Kennedy gravesite. The 37th Cadet Class flew to Washington to provide an honor guard during the president's funeral service.
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