Army Staff Sergeant Thomas Florich was a member of a UH-60 crew with the Louisiana National Guard. When his helicopter crashed in the fog in Florida on March 10, 2015, an unexpected debate was ignited. While the seven marines on board were on active duty, the four pilots and crew chiefs were not. As reservists, they were denied the right to be buried in Arlington.
There is much to be said about the location of one’s burial spot. Service members have a form that they fill out upon arrival to a unit that specifies the location for burial, music to be played, even the escort or pall bearers that are desired. The last wish of most service members is generally considered sacrament by most. Unfortunately for the family of Staff Sergeant Florich, his choice of Arlington National Cemetery was denied because he was in a training status at the time of his death.
Arlington National Cemetery came about as a result of the Civil war. Large numbers of service members were dying and the government was looking for a place to bury them. The land of Robert E. Lee’s son, George Washington Curtis Lee was appropriated by the U.S. Government in 1864 and burials began in the same year. With its picturesque views and close location to the capital, the cemetery quickly grew in size. While George Washington Curtis Lee eventually won his lawsuit against the government for illegal seizure of his land, he sold it back to the government for $150,000.
As the years have gone by, service members have been buried there from every American conflict, including the war of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. While there are many national cemeteries around the United States, Arlington is the most well-known. There is just one problem – it is filling up.
The cemetery has conducted expansions over recent years to accommodate the burial of more veterans. In order to ensure that veterans can be buried at Arlington for as long as possible, rules were established to set criteria for who could be permitted to have their burial there. As a reservist in training status, Staff Sergeant Florich did not meet that criteria.
His family appealed the decision. The seven marines who died in the crash could be buried there. They were on active duty but were being transported to their training location. While the good intentions of the initial decision initially meant well, the truth is that eventually Arlington will fill up, and service members will simply need to be buried at other locations. Limiting an honorable gentlemen’s last wish based on his current status was a mistake and the government was right to change their initial response.
Death is an emotional event; no family should have to fight bureaucracy to have it be honored. I am proud of the government’s ultimate decision and honored to have Staff Sergeant Florich’s last wish be honored. He served his country honorably and his loss, like the loss of the seven marines and three other crew members, will be felt by their brothers and sisters in arms. At the very least, he can be buried amongst them.
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