August 18, 2005, - 1:10 am
By Debbie Schlussel
It’s not every day that I side with a murderer over a man who gave his life helping our troops in Iraq.
But this is one of those rare instances.
The controversy concerns Arlington National Cemetery and who should be buried there.
Russell Wayne Wagner was buried in Arlington with standard military honors on July 27th. He served in the Army from 1969 to 1972 and was honorably discharged. He, therefore, qualified for burial in the prestigious military final resting place.
But Wagner was a convicted murderer. He murdered Daniel and Wilda Davis, both in their 80s, at their home. His death was almost as dishonorable. Wagner died in prison in February of a heroin overdose.
The Davis’ son, Vernon, is mortified that Wagner is buried in Arlington. He wants Wagner’s ashes removed from the time-honored military cemetery.
I have the deepest sympathy for Vernon Davis. I share his utter disgust. What Wagner did was outrageous, cold-blooded, and calculated. His burial at Arlington National Cemetery seems inappropriate. But Wagner met the standards of eligibility for burial at Arlington. He was eligible for parole at the time of his death, and only those veterans sentenced to death or life in prison without parole are barred from burial there.
Wagner’s remains should stay where they are.
Then, there is Ali Abass.
A Captain in the new Iraqi Air Force, he died with members of the U.S. Air Force when their plane crashed near the Iranian border, according to USA Today. In an earlier incident, Abass convinced possible Iraqi terrorists that he worked for the Iraqi agricultural department, while American soldiers hid nearby. He saved our soldiers’ lives.
Abass was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, last week. But Abass shouldn’t be there. He does not meet any of the standards of eligibility set forth by the cemetery.
Unfortunately, the powers that be decided to ignore the rules in Abass’ case in the name of PR and political correctness. “Things like this tend to draw us closer together,” Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, told USA Today. He claimed that Abass’ burial at Arlington will help foster “long-term personal relationships” between the pilots and air crews of American and Iraq.
But is false diplomacy–or even just Abass’ heroism–a reason to ignore the rules at Arlington for a member of a foreign military force, when room is already running out for American servicemen who dream of being buried there?
I don’t think so.
And will U.S. servicemen get the 21-gun salute and fly-over by U.S. Air Force jets that Abass’ burial got?
Sadly, Abass is not the first non-U.S. serviceman to be buried at Arlington. Including Abass, there are about sixty such cases. Sixty mistakes and lapses in judgment. Sixty examples of political correctness run amok, at the expense of sixty future U.S. soldiers who will not have a place where they earned the right to be buried.
While it is true that some of Abass’ remains may have been mixed with those of the U.S. airmen with whom he died, that is not the stated reason for his burial at Arlington, and it is not the reason for the burial of the 59 others who were not members of the U.S. Armed Forces. While also true that Abass’ ashes will share a single coffin with those of the four Americans, again, that is not the case for the 59 others.
Unlike them, over 260,000 Americans have been laid to rest at Arlington–every single one of them earning the right to be there. Every single one of them having served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces (unless they were close relatives of an eligible party, as provided for in the rules of eligibility for burial).
Arlington does provide an opportunity to apply for an exception to the rules, but is diplomacy between the U.S. and the new Iraq enough of a reason. Doubtful. That would open the floodgates to a lot of less admirable candidates–endless burials of non-U.S. servicemen a whole lot less deserving and heroic than Abass. Slippery slopes never end.
So, in this unique case, I’m siding with the cold-blooded, drug-addled murderer who took both parents from their son, over the hero who saved American lives–and paid the ultimate price for it. I hate to do that.
But those are the rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The rules must have integrity.
More than 260,000 deceased veterans buried there might be turning over in their graves, otherwise. Not to mention those who will have to be buried elsewhere when space runs out.
Tags: Air Force Special Operations Command, Ali Abass, Arlington, Arlington Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Army, Captain, Commander, Daniel Davis, Debbie Schlussel It, Iraq, Iraqi Air Force, Lt. Gen., Michael Wooley, Russell Wayne Wagner, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Armed Forces, United States, USA Today, Vernon Davis, Wilda Davis