WASHINGTON – Following a government reversal, the pilot of the American Airlines jet that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Charles Frank Burlingame III will be buried at Arlington on Dec. 12, said White House national security spokesman Sean McCormack. Army officials announced Wednesday morning that they had reconsidered an earlier decision denying Burlingame a plot in the cemetery.
Burlingame flew Navy jets for eight years, served several tours at the Navy's elite Top Gun school and later served in the Naval Reserve. But the Army and the cemetery decided that Burlingame, 51, wasn't eligible for burial in Arlington because retired reservists must turn 60 before admission, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The FBI has told Burlingame's family that he died of injuries sustained before the plane hit the Pentagon, the newspaper said.
"It's not very difficult to see that he had an active, up-close-and-personal, probably hand-to-hand confrontation with one or more knife-wielding terrorists," the Post quoted Debra Burlingame, the pilot's sister, as saying. "It was no different than if he were in combat."
Military officials wanted to honor Burlingame, but Arlington has strict rules because space there is limited, Col. Jim Allen, a spokesman for Army Secretary Thomas E. White, was quoted by the Post as saying. White made the ruling on the burial request, the Post said.
Burlingame grew up in Orange County, Calif., and he had planned to celebrate his 52nd birthday there by attending an Anaheim Angels baseball game on Sept. 12. When he learned he couldn't get a good seat to the game, he told his wife, Sheri, not to join him aboard the ill-fated Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, according to his brother, Brad.