Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop announced yesterday he has given up any right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“I do this without rancor and with an understanding of and respect for the special place that burial in Arlington has in the hearts of the American people,” said Dr. Koop, 81, a retired pediatric surgeon, who never served in the armed forces.
“While I feel honored by the president's action in granting this waiver, I certainly do not want Congress to spend its valuable floor time, particularly in this short session, on this issue. 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,” Dr. Koop added.
Dr. Koop's statement came after veterans groups had protested the waiver, first reported Monday by The Washington Times. Despite Dr. Koop's lack of military service, President Clinton in 1994 granted him a waiver to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's most prestigious military cemetery.
Interment in Arlington is usually reserved for long-serving veterans, those killed or wounded on active duty, or recipients of the nation's highest decorations. The White House did not officially announce the waiver. The Times reported Monday that internal documents indicated the president overrode Army opposition and granted the burial waiver at a time when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had enlisted Dr. Koop to support her health care plan. Military experts said they knew of no other cases in which a president awarded Arlington burial rights to a living non-veteran.
In his statement yesterday, the former surgeon general denounced the “speculation and inaccurate information reported in the media concerning the waiver granted to me by President Clinton.” “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,” Dr. Koop said.
Rep. Terry Everett, chairman of a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigation, which has been probing burial waivers at Arlington, had publicly called for Dr. Koop to relinquish his burial rights. “In withdrawing his name for a burial reservation at Arlington, … Dr. Koop acted appropriately, and I welcome his decision,” the Alabama Republican said. “I hope the White House will now follow through and officially withdraw the president's authorization of the Koop waiver.”
White House spokesman Barry Toiv said of Dr. Koop's decision, “It's a shame that the Republican attack machine has hounded one of the nation's great public servants out of Arlington, where he deserves to be buried like surgeon generals before him.” Asked if all of Dr. Koop's predecessors are buried at Arlington, Mr. Toiv said he knows that at least one other particularly prominent one, Dr. Luther Terry, was granted a waiver to be buried there by President Reagan. Dr. Terry, who died in 1985, was the surgeon general who first linked cigarette smoking and lung cancer. He did that in 1964, and since then, cigarette labels have contained surgeon general's warnings.
In his statement renouncing burial at Arlington, Dr. Koop discussed his medical research career during World War II. “On the day after Pearl Harbor, I was declared essential to the University of Pennsylvania for the duration of the war, and shortly thereafter, began a four-year assignment for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, attached to the United States Navy, in the development of a substitute for blood plasma, which was so desperately needed by the armed forces,” Dr. Koop said.
He added, “I am grateful to the president that he thought me worthy of such honor at the time of my death. He took this action not so much to call attention to my personal accomplishments but to those of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service, whose accomplishments deserve every suitable honor.”
During his seven years as surgeon general in the Reagan and Bush administrations, Dr. Koop regularly appeared in the official uniform of the Commissioned Corps. Established in 1872 as a uniformed service, the Commissioned Corps includes dietitians, dentists, physicians, engineers, pharmacists, sanitarians, scientists and veterinarians. It is headed by the surgeon general. In 1917, the Public Health Service became a branch of the military during wartime. Since then, the corps' allowances, benefits and pay have been commensurate with the armed forces'.
Dr. Koop's announcement yesterday was more conciliatory than comments he made to an NBC reporter, who asked him if he intended to relinquish his claim for burial at Arlington. “I am not going to say anything because you will not respect my time or my privacy. And that's all I'm going to say to you,” Dr. Koop said in an exchange broadcast yesterday morning on “Today.”
Phil Budahn, spokesman for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, also appeared on the network news program, and he urged Dr. Koop to give up his waiver for burial. “We acknowledge Dr. Koop did many wonderful things, but so did thousands of other civil servants and thousands of other veterans who are not eligible for burial in Arlington,” Mr. Budahn said yesterday in an interview. Mr. Budahn described Dr. Koop's decision as the “sensible thing to do.”
Tim Clarke, spokesman for the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, agreed. “That was probably the appropriate action for him to take,” he said. But Mr. Clarke said the House subcommittee should continue its investigation into the Koop case and the waiver process generally.
Mr. Everett charged that he has been given little help by the White House. “I remain disappointed … that the White House, despite the requests by my subcommittee for information on the Koop waiver and the invitation to testify at my hearing, has not been forthcoming with information or any explanation,” he said. “Federal regulations make it clear that the granting of burial reservations is expressly prohibited,” Mr. Everett added, “and the White House still owes my subcommittee an explanation. Unanswered questions remain over the sequence of events for the granting of the Koop burial reservation, and my subcommittee investigation will continue to probe these questions until we receive satisfactory answers.”
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard