Arlington National Cemetery says a Louisiana National Guardsman who was killed in a helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico can't be buried at the hallowed grounds because he was killed during a training exercise. The burial plots are only for service members who die on active duty and space is limited, the cemetery says. Staff Sgt. Thomas Florich, 26, was among four National Guardsmen and seven Marines killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed March 10 off of Florida. His father, a former Army major and Green Beret, calls the burial rejection "a slap in the face." "My son died in uniform and deserved to be buried at Arlington," says Stephen Florich, who lives 45 miles south of the cemetery. "I'm overwhelmed by the support my family and I have received" from military veterans and government leaders across the country, he adds. Some veterans have told him they'd give up their own spot in the cemetery for his son.
In a statement, the Army says, "Staff Sgt. Florich's death was tragic, and a deep loss to his family, the Army, and our nation. His 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." A cemetery rep says Arlington is expected to run out of burial space in about 40 years, meaning "those currently serving on active duty may not have an opportunity to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, if they retire after a life of service." An appeal was filed with the secretary of the Army seeking an exception for Florich. As of yesterday, there had been no reply.