Full story Plan to tighten Arlington rules too strict – Army

By John Whitesides Reuters News Service

A bill in Congress to tighten burial requirements at Arlington National Cemetery is too restrictive and would not have allowed for the burial of many public servants now interred there, an Army official said Tuesday.

John McLaurin, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, told a House subcommittee that former Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, would not have qualified under the proposed regulations.

“The legislation creates a set of immutable rules that limit any discretion to grant exceptions in those circumstances that historically have warranted burial in this hallowed cemetery,” McLaurin told a subcommittee of the House Veterans Committee.

“Under the proposed legislation, Justice Marshall and other extraordinary public servants could not be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.”

The question of who is buried at Arlington became an issue late last year when allegations surfaced that the Clinton administration had granted burial waivers to people who made large contributions to the Democratic Party.

A General Accounting Office report found no evidence to back up those allegations.

But reports that a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Larry Lawrence, was buried in the cemetery partly because he invented his Second World War service record led his widow to disinter his body and rebury it in California.

The House bill would codify in law existing regulations for burial at the U.S. military's elite cemetery, but would terminate eligibility for members of Congress and other high-ranking government officials who did not have a highly distinguished military career.

“Changing this rule constitutes a radical departure from current burial policies and fundamentally changes the character of the cemetery,” McLaurin said.

McLaurin said the House bill would exclude from burial in Arlington those citizens without military experience who died while performing a mission on behalf of the United States such as Robert Frasure, deputy assistant secretary of state who died in an armored vehicle accident in Bosnia.

“We believe that individuals like Mr. Frasure, who are dispatched to strife-ridden areas and make the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, should not be excluded from burial in Arlington National Cemetery,” he said.

He said language should be included in the bill to allow the president or the secretary of the army to grant exceptions for burial in Arlington for those “whose acts, services or contributions on behalf of the armed forces or the nation are extraordinary,” he said.

The cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, has strict eligibility requirements because it is rapidly running out of space. It has enough plots to last about another 20 years, officials have said.

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