Keeping JFK's eternal flame burning at Arlington National Cemetery
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2013
ARLINGTON, Va. – A temporary burner is keeping the fire going at the grave of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery while an old burner system for the site’s eternal flame receives needed repairs.
On Monday, workers used a torch that was lit by the eternal flame to light the new burner atop a boxy, two-foot-high metal structure. According to cemetery officials, a flame has been burning continuously at the gravesite since Kennedy was buried at Arlington on November 25, 1963.
The burner system being repaired and upgraded was installed in 1967. “It’s the original equipment,” Army Lt. Col. David Fedroff, engineering chief at Arlington, said in a video released by the cemetery’s public affairs office. “It has significantly deteriorated.”
Fedroff noted that some of the electronic parts have corroded, and that some of the gas lines feeding the old burner system have caused some concerns.
On Tuesday, work crews with shovels were digging trenches leading to the old burner system in an area fenced off from the front portion of the gravesite, which is still visible to the public.
“We felt it was important to maintain the flame,” said Fedroff. “The current temporary flame was lit from the eternal flame, so we feel like we’re continuing an important tradition in our nation in honoring President Kennedy.”
While visiting Arlington on Tuesday, Elena Perales, an orthopedic technician from Austin, Texas, noticed that the flame was different from the flame she saw when she visited the site as a young teenager. Looking down from Arlington House that sits atop a hill that slopes up from the gravesite, Perales could see the circular stone that houses the burner system lying by itself in the fenced-off area. The blackened area in the center of the stone marked where a flame had been burning.
Perales said she appreciated the cemetery’s efforts to keep the flame burning. “For me, this flame is kind of like a symbol of hope,” she said, noting that many of her family members have served in the military. “Seeing my family members go off to war … That flame is something like a symbol that they are going to come home.”
And for those who don’t make it back from war, Perales said the flame reminds her that “they are resting in peace or that they will come home someday.”
“JFK was pretty special for many Americans… This is about people who have served; that’s what is special about it.”