Who gets buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

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Dec. 6 2001 4:47 PM

Who Gets Buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

The Army won’t waive its rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery to allow the captain of American Airlines Flight 77 to receive his own plot and headstone. What are the rules for determining who gets buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

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To quote Slate's deputy editor, the rules "read like the fine print on an insurance policy." The full list of rules is posted on the cemetery's Web site. Here's a distillation:

Former members of the armed forces: The last period of active duty must have ended honorably. Dying on active duty will get you in, unless you were serving on active duty for training only. All veterans who retire after 20 years of active military service can get in. Retired reservists are eligible only after they've reached the age of 60 and drawn retired pay, and if they also served a period of active duty other than training. (The American Airlines pilot, Charles F. Burlingame, was 52 and had served for eight years in the Navy.) All winners of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, or Purple Heart get in. Any former prisoner of war who died on or after Nov. 30, 1993, is eligible, if they served honorably in active service while a POW. Finally, former armed forces members can be buried in the same grave with a close relative who is the primary eligible person, if "certain conditions are met."

Politicians and other government officials: The president or any former president is eligible. So is anyone who held an elective office of the U.S. government, as long as they served on active duty in the armed forces. The same goes for current and former Supreme Court justices, U.S. trade representatives, Office of Management and Budget directors, Social Security commissioners, National Drug Control Policy directors, U.S. attorneys general, and secretaries of state, treasury, defense, interior, agriculture, commerce, labor, health and human services, transportation, energy, education, and veterans affairs. If they served on active duty in the armed forces, they're eligible. So are former active-duty armed forces members who held any of the offices listed here (which includes the CIA director; the secretaries of the Army, Air Force, and Navy; the chairman of the council of economic advisers; the chairman of the Federal Reserve; and a variety of deputy secretaries). The final category of government officials who are eligible—if they served on active duty in the armed forces—are the chiefs of the U.S. missions to NATO, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and a handful of countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, Russia, China, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Spouses and family: The spouse, widow or widower, minor child, or permanently dependent child, as well as "certain unmarried adult children" of any eligible veterans are in, as are the surviving spouse, minor child, or permanently dependent child of any other person already buried in Arlington. Also eligible are the widows and widowers of armed forces members who were lost or buried at sea or officially determined to be missing in action. So is the widow or widower of an armed forces member interred in an overseas U.S. military cemetery maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, or the widow or widower of an armed forces member who is interred in Arlington as part of a group burial. The parent of a minor child or permanently dependent child buried in Arlington based on the eligibility of another parent is eligible. However, divorced spouses, or widowed and remarried spouses, are not eligible.

To learn more about Arlington National Cemetery, read thisSlate article.

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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