Army Secretary Togo West on Friday released the names of the 69 people who were given special permission to be buried at Arlington Cemetery during the Clinton administration, in an effort to halt accusations that cemetery plots were traded for campaign contributions.
West said he felt compelled to take the highly unusual step of releasing the names and backgrounds after listening to intensifying criticism of Republican congressional leaders and the "heated words" from leaders of 10 veterans groups, with whom he met Friday.
"The best antiseptic is sunlight," he said at a news conference. "It has become increasingly clear that the protection we thought we were giving these families is turning into a cloud of suspicion having to do with the process of burial at Arlington Cemetery and the question of whether certain individuals belong there."
According to Federal Election Commission records, only one of the 69 people, M. Larry Lawrence, had contributed generously to the Democrats or Republicans. Lawrence was the ambassador to Switzerland when he died in January 1996, which West said justified the exception to the strict eligibility rules for burial at Arlington.
West, who had resisted earlier calls to release the names for the sake of privacy, again insisted that neither he nor his staff considered the past generosity of the families seeking plots.
The controversy started Wednesday with a report in Insight magazine, which is published by Washington Times Inc., and discussions on talk radio. Several congressional Republican leaders expressed outrage.
West's news conference Friday seemed to quell many of the Republican critics. But White House aides said they were furious at what they viewed as a coordinated offensive.
"It was a calculated, partisan, political effort to destroy the reputations of people now in government, and in the process of doing so, besmirching the honor of people who are buried at Arlington National Cemetery," said White House press secretary Mike McCurry.
At his news conference, West said: "I cannot tell you whether any of these nine have ever contributed to a political party or whether they cared. At the time these were granted, no one working for me cared. Today, we continue to care only about the fact that these are Americans who served their country. They deserve better treatment from the press than they've gotten so far."
The nine he spoke of were exceptions he had granted despite the cemetery superintendent's recommendations of denial.
The waivers granted by Clinton were to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and to Elvera Burger, widow of retired Chief Justice Warren Burger. A third was to a District of Columbia police officer and Marine veteran killed in the line of duty, and the fourth to a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and Army veteran killed while on a mission in Peru.
West said Clinton also had given special permission to a "distinguished American" who was still alive to be buried in Arlington upon his death. Two administration officials said the individual was Dr. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general for eight years under President Ronald Reagan.
Several veterans groups said they were satisfied by the secretary's explanation and added that they regretted the anger the accusations had caused among thousands of veterans.
"It would appear that the anonymous accusations that have been floating around were unfounded," said John F. Sommer, executive director of the American Legion.
West said that in the future, he would send every decision on every name to Congress and make it public.
On presidential authorization
Among those people interred at Arlington National Cemetery based on authorization by the president and the secretary of the Army since 1993 are:
Thurgood Marshall, associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Albert B. Sabin, Army veteran of World War II who developed oral polio vaccine.
Francis D. Campbell, Army veteran, interred in same grave as brother.
William Patrick Collins, decorated Army veteran of Vietnam.
Elvera S. Burger, wife of retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, with subsequent burial of chief justice in same grave site in 1995.
Warren D. Parks, honorably discharged veteran who served in World War II in the Coast Guard, and a descendant of three generations of slaves who served Arlington House plantation.
J.W. Seale, Army veteran and Drug Enforcement Administration agent killed in an airplane crash while on an official mission in Peru.
Henry Joseph Daly, Marine Corps veteran killed in line of duty as Washington, D.C., police officer.
Clark G. Fiester, Air Force veteran serving as assistant secretary of the Air Force when he died on official business.
Joseph L. Merton, Army Air Corps veteran who flew 28 combat missions in World War II as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Maj. Clarence T. Marsh, Air Force National Guard major who died in a plane crash during a training exercise.
Robert Cade Oliver, decorated World War II Army veteran who later played role in implementation of Marshall Plan.
Joseph J. Kruzel Jr., former Army captain, serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense when killed while on a diplomatic mission in Bosnia.
Robert C. Frasure, deputy assistant secretary of state and special envoy of the president, killed while on a diplomatic mission in Bosnia.
Joseph C. Sciortino, Army veteran disabled in World War II.
John Scali, war correspondent during World War II, a critical negotiator during Cuban Missile Crisis and a U.N. ambassador.
M. Larry Lawrence, Merchant Marine veteran injured during combat in World War II; U.S. ambassador to Switzerland at the time of his death.
Sgt. Michael A. Mauney, member of National Guard killed after a weekend drill.
Cmdr. Nancy E. Dyer, Naval Reserve commander killed while on full-time active duty for training.
Hart T. Mankin, Air Force veteran who was a judge on the Court of Veterans Appeals at the time of his death and previously served as Navy general counsel.
Alan K. Olsen, Air Force veteran and senior Air Force official at time of death.
Roland W. Charles, Navy veteran who continued in a career of service at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Ramon Garcia, retired Navy Reserve captain who died while on official government business for the Justice Department.
The remainder of the 69 include 26 adult children of veterans, 17 former spouses of veterans and three mothers of veterans.