Koop gives up claim on Arlington burial

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop relinquished his claim on a burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday but also lashed out at Republicans who questioned whether he deserved the honor.

“I do this without rancor and with an understanding of and respect for the special place that burial at Arlington has in the hearts of the American people,” Koop said in a written statement.

President Bill Clinton had granted an exemption in 1994 to allow Koop to be buried at Arlington when he dies.

The exemption came under scrutiny from the Republican head of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee, Terry Everett of Alabama, who has been looking into the possibility of political favoritism in granting exemptions for burial at Arlington.

A controversy erupted last year over the burial at Arlington of former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Democratic campaign contributor Larry Lawrence when it emerged he had fabricated his military record.

His body was removed from Arlington last December and reburied in California.

Koop said he was honored by Clinton’s action in granting the waiver but did not want to distract Congress from working on more important business.

“There are so many critical issues that should be consuming the time of Congress that I hereby relinquish any claim to burial in Arlington Cemetery,” Koop said.

He lashed out at Republicans who questioned his exemption. “To accuse either me or the president of any ‘improper reward’ for services rendered is untrue and offensive to me and I am sure to the president,” he said.

The White House blamed Republicans for Koop giving up his Arlington burial.

“It’s a shame that Republicans succeeded in hounding him out of his rightful place at Arlington. They sought to impugn the integrity of an extraordinary public servant and I think, having seen their work before, Dr. Koop decided he was not going to become another victim,” said White House spokesman Barry Toiv.

Arlington is America’s most hallowed military cemetery and burial there is usually reserved for distinguished military veterans.

Koop, 81, is not an armed forces veteran. However, as Surgeon General under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush he wore a uniform and carried a rank equivalent to a navy admiral as the head of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Koop said that during the Second World War he was attached to the U.S. Navy in the Office of Scientific Research where he worked on development of a substitute for blood plasma, which was desperately needed by the armed forces.

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