Changes to Arlington Policy

Local family's anguish changes Arlington cemetery policy
Angry that there was no caisson to carry Corporal Benjamin Kopp to his grave, his family took action.

WASHINGTON – Greg Tobin, a retired police officer in southern New York, was playing golf on Wednesday when he received an e-mail from Washington that brought tears to his eyes.

A staffer in Senator Al Franken's office had written him to say that Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for members of the military, was changing its protocol and adding additional resources after a Rosemount native's funeral there last month prompted an outcry from Tobin and lawmakers in Washington.

“I just busted down in tears,” Tobin said.

Tobin had spent a month advocating on behalf of the family of Corporal Benjamin S. Kopp, 21, who died in July from wounds he suffered in Afghanistan while serving in a platoon alongside Tobin's son.

Kopp's family had requested a horse-drawn caisson — part of the full-honors military funeral — but was informed that they would have to wait until October because Arlington had only two caissons to service all military funerals.

At the time, Franken fired off an angry letter to Arlington Superintendent John Metzler, saying “This is an intolerable and undue burden on a family that is already mourning the loss of a loved one, and the perception left by this incident is unbecoming and unacceptable.”

Franken's letter noted that the family's grief was amplified by what appeared to be a free caisson unit practicing nearby, though it was actually returning from another funeral.

On Wednesday, a month after he sent the letter, Franken received a reply from Pete Geren, secretary of the Army, who had also been contacted by Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Geren said the cemetery would add a third caisson and alter scheduling so units would be available to more families.

Kopp's mother, Jill Stephenson, on Thursday called the news “unbelievably exciting. … I feel that Ben did this. This was part of Ben's life's purpose.”

Stephenson said that while she would like to see even more caissons available, she was pleased at the swift response.

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