The family of a Louisiana National Guardsman who died in a tragic helicopter training accident says it’s a “travesty” that their son will not be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The U.S. Army says that because National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26, died in a training mission, he does not meet the criteria for internment at Arlington. Unfortunately, the cemetery is increasingly crowded, and the Army must be selective about who receives plots. The army said there is room for the family in an above-ground memorial that holds cremation urns for ashes, but Florich’s family wants a burial plot for their beloved son.
Arlington isn’t the only cemetery struggling with overcrowding. Each year, there are 2.4 million funerals in the U.S., according to the National Funeral Director’s Association. At Arlington, army officials say that they must save room for eligible service members and veterans who die while in active duty, as well as their spouses. The cemetery is expected to run out of burial plots in the 2050s, despite a recent addition to the grounds.
A Tragic Accident And A Father’s Grief
The National Guardsman was flying a Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed off the Florida coast on March 10. Three more guardsmen and seven marines lost their lives in the training accident.
“He was killed in uniform doing his job, training for, not if, but when people went into harm’s way,” said Florich’s father.
But officials unanimously denied the Baton Rouge family’s request for an exception to the rules.
In a statement, cemetery officials said: “[Thomas Florich’s] record of service makes him eligible for inurnment, so he may be forever enshrined in Arlington National Cemetery; however, since at the time of his death he was on active duty for training only, he therefore does not meet the well-established criteria for interment in Arlington National Cemetery.”
The Louisiana National Guard and local politicians are joining with the family to appeal the decision.