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Repairs, updates planned for JFK eternal flame

Melissa and Richard Weahry, of Newark, Del., visit the grave site of President John F. Kennedy, where the eternal flame has burned since 1967, Friday in Arlington Cemetery. The cemetery plans $350,000 worth of repairs and upgrades to the flame. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

ARLINGTON, Va. – The John F. Kennedy eternal flame is an iconic symbol known worldwide, but the flame is losing its spark.

The flame, which has been burning since 1967, is now working on the last of its three burners.

The cemetery recently awarded a Landover, Md. company a $350,000 contract to upgrade the flame. The work should begin by the end of the month.

The new system will be more energy-efficient and provide easier access to the pipes and flame assemblies for repairs and maintenance.

A temporary flame will be installed while the current burner is replaced. It will be the second time a temporary flame has been used at the site.

The first time a temporary flame was used, Nov. 25, 1963, Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington. At the time, a modified propane-fueled tiki torch was used until the permanent flame was installed.

The flame is one of the most popular sites at Arlington National Cemetery. It marks the grave site of the president, his wife and two Kennedy children — one who was stillborn and the other, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who was a preemie who died when he was only a few days old.

Friday afternoon, Melissa Weahry and her husband, Richard Weahry, were visiting the cemetery from Newark, Del., and were happy to see the national treasure before the repair work begins.

“I’m glad to come and see that, that’s amazing,” she says after visiting the Kennedy gravesite.

The upgrade work should take three months to complete. A white fence will block off the area during the repairs. Visitors will still be able to see the grave markers.

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