Dishonoring veterans Arlington burials: Republicans point finger at Clinton but they didn't check their facts.

November 26, 1997

SHAME. SHAME. SHAME! That's what Republicans in Congress and their co-conspirators on talk radio angrily shouted at the Clinton administration last week. Why, the dastardly cads in the White House had been selling hard-to-come-by burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery -- a military shrine -- to campaign donors!

Shame, indeed. But not on President Clinton or Army Secretary Togo D. West, who had done nothing wrong. The shame belongs to those very Republicans who had wrapped themselves in ersatz patriotism to whip up veterans groups against the White House. It turns out that no one on the Republican side had bothered to check out the facts; they were happy to spread malicious -- and unfounded -- rumor to smear the Democrats.

Yes, 69 people have received special permission for burial at Arlington National Cemetery during Mr. Clinton's presidency. But rundown of the individuals and their circumstances reveal that all of them deserved that honor. Indeed, when the director of the American Legion reviewed this list, he found nothing amiss.

By then, harm had already been done to the families of these men and women whose integrity had been questioned. Even then, some members of Congress persisted in the fiction that something shady had happened.

What types of burial exceptions were made at Arlington? Famous Americans, such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Albert Sabin, an Army veteran who developed the oral polio vaccine; the wife of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger; an Army veteran who flew 28 combat missions with the Tuskegee Airmen; a diplomat and former Army captain killed in Bosnia, and the ambassador to Switzerland.

It was this last one, M. Larry Lawrence, who prompted the GOP denunciations. He was a big Democratic fund-raiser. But Mr. Lawrence had died last year while at his diplomatic post and he had been injured during combat in World War II as a merchant marine seaman.

Where's the outrage? If there is any it should be directed toward Republicans who falsely denounced the White House for its lack patriotism. If anyone dishonored the memory of those brave Americans buried at Arlington National Cemetery it was the accusers who cared more for political gain than for seeking out the truth.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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