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Lawmakers want full military honors at Arlington for MOH recipients, POWs

U.S. Marine Sgt. Katie Maynard salutes as a casket is lowered during a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., on Oct. 24. (Cpl. Mondo Lescaud, U.S. Marine Corps, WikiCommons)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying again to ensure all Medal of Honor recipients and prisoners of war are given full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Legislation introduced in the House on Wednesday would grant them a military band and horse-drawn caisson – honors now reserved only for officers and servicemembers killed in action.

“Valor knows no rank,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Providing full military honors is the least we can do for our prisoners of war and Medal of Honor recipients. This bill will rightfully recognize and honor their courageous service and sacrifices.”

Along with Crenshaw, Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Van Taylor, R-Texas, and Elaine Luria, D-Va., introduced the Full Military Honors Act. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year in the final days of the 115th Congress, but it stalled in the House.

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Arlington officials said last year that the cemetery could barely keep up with the current demand for burials with full military honors. At the time, there was a seven- to nine-month wait for full honors.

The 155-year-old cemetery averages about 30 burials each day. A standard burial includes a uniformed detail, the playing of taps and folding and presenting an American flag to family members.

The family of Army Pvt. 1st Class Robert Fletcher, a Buffalo Soldier and former Korean War POW, spoke out about the issue last year, after Fletcher was denied full military honors at Arlington.

“My dad fought that war and lived the POW experience until the day he died… and you’re going to sit there and tell my family that my dad can’t be buried with full honors because he wasn’t and could never be an officer?” his daughter, Kanda Fletcher said last year. “I don’t think it’s right.”

When the Full Military Honors Act was introduced last Congress, Kanda Fletcher said: “We cannot change my father’s burial, but if I can make it easier for any still-living former POWs and their families when the time comes, I will do whatever it takes.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Matt Burke contributed to this story.

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