Burial Deadline Upsets Attack Victim's Family
Funeral Plans Thwarted, Widow Says
Thursday, November 15, 2001
Martha Jackson-Holley waited seven weeks to bury her husband.
Jimmie Ira Holley, an accountant for the Army, was missing after the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
For weeks, Jackson-Holley waited for her husband's remains to be identified, as other families buried their loved ones from the Pentagon, often in proper military ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
When Holley was finally identified Oct. 18 by DNA tests on fragments of bone, his widow cried.
Then she started making arrangements. She wanted a heartfelt memorial service at Holley's church Nov. 3, then burial at Arlington, a fitting tribute to a former Army sergeant who had spent almost 30 years working for the government as a civilian.
Holding the ceremonies on a Saturday would allow his relatives and friends from as far away as Alabama to attend the services and then get back home in time for work Monday.
But there was more bad news to come. Military officials had suspended Saturday funerals at the end of October, and Jackson-Holley would not be allowed to hold the burial Nov. 3. Instead, the burial ceremony was held Monday, two days after the church service. Dozens of relatives and friends from out of town who had come in for the funeral service could not attend the burial.
As the attention of the country has turned away from the horrors of Sept. 11 and toward the U.S. strikes in Afghanistan and the recent anthrax cases, some families of victims are still coping with the aftermath.
As of Nov. 1, there were at least six Pentagon employees who had not been buried.
And as the numbers of Pentagon victims to be identified and buried has dwindled, so have programs established to assist families, such as the Family Assistance Center, which for four weeks acted as a sort of headquarters for families of Pentagon attack victims. The center, housed at a hotel in Crystal City, was disbanded after the Oct. 11 memorial ceremony for Pentagon crash victims' families.
“It was like after the Oct. 11 memorial service, a lot of people just put us out of their minds,” Jackson-Holley said. “But that ceremony wasn't the end for us. They hadn't even identified Jimmie then. Things started for us on Oct. 18, when I got that phone call.”
“I am so hurt, so angry, I can't even express how I feel,” Jackson-Holley said in an interview before the funeral. “My husband deserves to be buried at Arlington in the most respectful ceremony we can give him, with his family and friends there. I can't believe some [arbitrary] deadline is going to mess things up like this.
“Now, we're going to have to have the funeral service on Saturday then wait two days to bury him. I'm so upset about it.”
Barbara Owens, a spokeswoman for Arlington National Cemetery, said funerals are typically not performed on weekends at the facility, where upward of 20 funerals are scheduled each day. But services were scheduled on Saturdays in the wake of the Pentagon attack because of the additional need.
“To help alleviate the stress for the families, we decided to go to Saturday funerals,” Owens said. “It was decided that Oct. 27 would be the last Saturday funeral because of scheduling and demands on the soldiers.”
Jackson-Holley and a military “casualty assistance officer” assigned to help her in the wake of the attack, tried without success to get cemetery officials to allow one last Saturday funeral. Owens said it was not permitted because the deadline had been set.
“It was not directed at the Holley family at all,” she said. “It's unfortunate that that's when his remains were identified. That's the process we are taking. Looking ahead at the funerals that are already scheduled, there was more available time Monday through Friday.”
Owens said she was unaware whether the Saturday funerals were also started as a courtesy to out-of-town families, as Pentagon victims' said they were told. Families said they were never told that there was a deadline for the Saturday funerals.
“If I had known that there was a deadline, I would have been urging them to return his body sooner so I could bury him on a Saturday for the family's sake,” Jackson-Holley said. “Nobody told me anything until they told me they wouldn't bury him at Arlington on a Saturday.”
Besides the disappointment over the burial, Jackson-Holley said she was also disappointed that authorities refused to reimburse the expenses of relatives who traveled by car to Holley's funeral.
Jackson-Holley said relatives were told that donated funds would reimburse them for bus, rail and air fares, but not for automobile travel expenses.
“A lot of his family members don't want to fly right now and that should be understandable,” Jackson-Holley said. “Some of his family [were] not able to come because of this.”
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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