WASHINGTON – Prompted by the death of a pilot who died in the Sept. 11 hijackings, the House voted Thursday to expand the rights of reservists to be buried at Arlington National Ceremony.
The measure, approved by voice vote, would eliminate the requirement that retired reservists who would otherwise be eligible be at least 60 years old to be buried at Arlington.
Currently, reservists with 20 years of service qualify for Arlington if they die after 60. Additionally, the bill would extend those privileges to reservists who die during training activities. Their spouses may be buried with them.
The bill emerged after Charles Burlingame, a former Navy pilot who was the captain of the American Airlines plane that hijackers crashed into the Pentagon, was initially denied burial at Arlington because he was only 51 years old.
After intense public criticism, Army Secretary Thomas White reversed the decision and Burlingame was buried at the cemetery on Dec. 12.
At a House hearing last week, John Metzler, superintendent of the cemetery, expressed concern that there is not enough space for the 188,000 reservists who could be eligible for burial there under the bill.
But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and sponsor of the legislation, estimated that only an additional 50 to 200 people a year would be buried at Arlington as a result of the bill becoming law.
Arlington is projected to run out of burial plots by 2025.