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Army, pilot's family disagree on Arlington burial

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The sister of the Navy reservist who piloted the plane terrorists crashed into the Pentagon September 11 angrily demanded Wednesday that her brother get his own grave in Arlington National Cemetery because he was a victim of "what his own president is calling an act of war in a combat zone."

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"The Army is trying to conserve space," said Debra Burlingame. "This is just housekeeping."

Her brother, Capt. Charles Frank Burlingame III, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 and was killed along with five other crew members and 58 passengers when the hijacked plane crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m. September 11.

The Army, which oversees the crowded cemetery, turned down a request from his family that Burlingame, who died on the eve of his 52nd birthday, be buried in his own grave, citing a requirement that reservists must be at least 60 at death to qualify for burial there.

"He merited the spot and didn't make it to 60 because a bunch of bastards killed him in what his own president is calling an act of war in a combat zone," his sister said.

Following complaints from the family, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke announced at a news briefing Wednesday that the family had agreed to an Army solution on the burial.

Debra Burlingame, who lives in New York, denied this in a phone call to CNN.

"The Army has worked very hard with the family to come to an agreement where he will be buried in Arlington with his father, in his father's plot in Arlington, and they will change the headstone to reflect that," Clarke said. "And our understanding is the family is happy with this resolution."

Burlingame's sister said the family had not agreed to having her brother share a grave with her father -- who was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force -- without a separate headstone, and that Burlingame's wife Shari refused to sign a Department of Army affidavit to authorize this.

She said the affidavit also stipulated the family would pay all burial costs and that Shari would give up all rights to be buried with her husband.

Debra Burlingame said the family feels that because of his outstanding record in 25 years of active and reserve service as a U.S. Navy pilot, and the nature of his death, her brother -- an Annapolis graduate whose nickname was "Chic" -- deserves his own plot and headstone.

In an October 23 letter to Secretary of the Army Thomas White, the sister said: "We know our brother. We believe 'Chic' was killed in action. We have no doubt whatsoever that he would not have hesitated to do whatever it took to prevent armed intruders from gaining control of his cockpit.

"Nor would he have stood by and allowed them to harm his passengers and crew .... These knife-wielding attackers would have had to take him out, and he would not have gone quietly."

Debra Burlingame said the family heard back from the Army in a letter dated November 7. The letter expressed condolences but said the Army stood by its policy on reservists who die before age 60. She said the family took that to mean the events of September 11 "were of no importance."

Clarke said the Navy still is considering whether it will do a flyover in Burlingame's honor.

In an interview Wednesday night on CNN's "Newsnight with Aaron Brown," Brad Burlingame, the pilot's brother, said several senators are working with the family to get the rules for burial changed.

"Frankly, I think the rule is wrong, and I believe there are legislators on Capitol Hill that feel that way as well ... and I think eventually the rule may be changed," he said.

Brad Burlingame also suggested that his brother may have helped prevent the terrorists from hitting the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

Burlingame, a former F-4 fighter pilot based in Herndon, Virginia, is to be buried December 12. His mother is buried at Arlington alongside his father.

"Secretary White, we want to properly honor our brother, and through him, our parents," Debra wrote in the October 23 letter. "We want to bring him home in the only way we know how. Please help us to make that happen."



 
 
 
 



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