Army: No Misuse of Arlington Plots (11/20/97)
Army Releases List Of Arlington 'Exceptions'
West says vets 'deserved better' in this controversy
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 21) -- Secretary of the Army Togo West today released the list of the 69 exceptions made during the Clinton Administration for burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
He said America's veterans "deserved better" than they have received in this controversy.
Most of the 58 exceptions to Arlington's normal burial qualifications were granted by West; four were granted by President Bill Clinton, and the remaining seven were granted by acting secretaries of the Army before West's tenure.
Of the 58 he granted, West said, 42 were perfectly routine, those who wanted to be buried in the same grave site with an eligible family member already buried at Arlington. West went into detail on the reasons he granted the others, and the Army posted it on its Web site.
West had said that the list of exceptions had been made available to the congressional oversight committees earlier in the year, but had not been made public for privacy reasons.
"It's become increasingly clear to me," West said this afternoon, "that the protection we thought we were giving to these families is turning into a cloud of suspicion that hovers over the processes having to do with burial at Arlington Cemetery and therefore the question of whether individuals, or certain individuals, belong there. With that in mind, then, it is appropriate to do this disclosure."
West said that given this "cloud of suspicion," certain practices would be changed: the secretary of the Army would inform military oversight committees each time an exception is made, and that the names would be made public as well.
One of the exceptions granted was to the late ambassador to Switzerland, Larry Lawrence, who was also a major contributor to the Democratic Party and to the 1992 Clinton campaign.
West spoke directly on Lawrence's case: "I say to the family and to his widow and to all who know him, there is no dispute. There is no controversy, there is no uncertainty about the entitlement of that distinguished public servant to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery."
West said Lawrence qualified both as an ambassador -- one of the four categories of citizens for whom exceptions are granted -- and as a wounded veteran of the merchant marines.
Was West angry about the controversy? "No," he said. "But ..."
"This is a free country, we say lots of things, but that we need to be especially careful," West said. "I would say it would be appropriate to be especially careful in this case.
"And in another time, and under other circumstances, I might even have said, 'Shame. Shame for inflaming our veterans and our service members with a sense that perhaps their burials were being treated in a way that there was no evidence that they were being treated ... Shame for failing to remember that we are Americans, and as such, we are good and decent people. We believe that about each other, until someone shows us that that's not true.'"
America's veterans, West said, "deserved better."
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Friday Nov. 21, 1997
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