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Friday September 21, 2001

Pentagon Debates Victims' Burials

The attack on the Pentagon has Army brass grappling with yet another wrenching problem: Some survivors of civilian employees who were killed want them laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery despite rules making them ineligible.

With the burial ground at Arlington filling up, there are tighter rules about who can be buried there than at the 114 other veterans cemeteries around the country.

But the military is also under pressure to specially recognize its civilian workers who sacrified their lives in the attack on the Defense Department headquarters by interring them at one of the nation's most sacred burial sites.

Barbara Owens, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which runs the cemetery, said Friday that several families have asked for waivers of burial eligibility rules at Arlington. She could not say how exactly many.

The superintendent of the cemetary, Jack Metzler, went to a hotel near the charred building on Thursday to brief family members about the process of obtaining burials. Owens said a waiver request could not move forward until the remains were identified and a death certificate issued.

Of the 189 people believed to have died as a result of the attack, the remains of only 40 have been identified by the Defense Department. Many of those presumed dead were not active military personnel, but civilian contractors, secretaries and others.

In the meantime, the Army's Old Guard of the Military District of Washington will be working overtime to accommodate eligible military personnel lost at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Owens said.

Burials are usually conducted during normal business hours, but they will temporarily take place during
early-morning and late-evening hours as well as Saturdays, Owens said.

As of Friday, 10 burials for those lost in the September 11 terrorist attacks had been scheduled, starting next
Tuesday, she said.

The cemetery now holds more than 260,000 people, including President Kennedy, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, polar explorer Richard Byrd, boxer Joe Louis, and astronaut Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon.

With more than 5,400 people interred at Arlington each year, the cemetery is expected to run out of room in about 2025 if it is not expanded.

Military rules say the 612-acre site is only open to active military duty personnel, military retirees, reserves personnel receiving retirement pay, presidents and former presidents, recipients of the Medal of Honor and the military's other highest decorations, and former prisoners of war.

Spouses and dependent children of eligible military personnel also are qualified, as are spouses of those
lost at sea or missing in action.

Members of Congress, the vice president, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries and ranking diplomats are eligible if they completed military service.

Exceptions to those rules must be granted by the Army secretary - or, in some cases, the president. Only a couple of hundred waivers have been granted in the cemetery's history.

Posted: 21 September 2001