Reading Time: 4 minutes
Correction on August 20, 2019: An earlier version of this piece said that Paul McNutt was the only other Hoosier politician buried at Arlington. It has come to my attention that Sen. Vance Hartke and Rep. Frank McCloskey are also buried there. That change has been made below.
On July 24, Sen. Richard Lugar will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, and at some point in the future Sen. Birch Bayh will be, as well.
To many Hoosiers, this makes sense: Both men were giants in the U.S. Senate who gave much to the nation and world through their leadership. It makes sense that they should be accorded the honor of burial in a national cemetery. It also begs the question: What other prominent Hoosier politicians are buried at Arlington?
But before I answer that question, it’s worth considering what makes one eligible to be laid at rest in that particular cemetery. Most people probably assume that Lugar and Bayh earned the honor as a result of their widespread recognition as statesmen. But that assumption is false. Consider: The markers for neither man will note the final resting place of a U.S. Senator, but of Lieutenant Lugar and Private Bayh.
That’s because Arlington is a veterans cemetery, and burial in such cemeteries is reserved for active duty veterans who were discharged honorably, their spouses, and their minor children. But of all our national veterans cemeteries, Arlington has the strictest eligibility requirements. In addition to having served active duty, burial there also typically requires that the deceased died while on active duty (often killed in action); earned one of a handful of specific decorations, such as a Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, or a Purple Heart; served long enough to earn career retirement benefits; or, for those who died after 1993, been a prisoner of war.
Of the more than 400,000 people buried there, the vast majority meet one of those requirements. It’s true that many prominent political figures are buried within its gates, but with few exceptions (usually requiring a Presidential waiver) they all still meet the active duty military service requirement. Perhaps the most notable exception is William Howard Taft, because U.S. Presidents are eligible regardless of military service (though its worth noting they do serve as commander in chief). All other federal elected officials, certain federal appointed officials, and Supreme Court justices are eligible only if they meet the active duty requirement.
So Lugar and Bayh qualify by virtue of having served on active duty, and later holding the office of U.S. Senate; their long list of achievements have no significance, and even holding the office only meets the secondary requirement so that their markers will bear only their military rank.
But we still aren’t quite ready to answer the question. That’s because Arlington didn’t necessarily reach it’s current level of prominence until after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. A few months prior, Kennedy took a trip to Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee which sits on the cemetery grounds. After admiring the serenity of the cemetery and the view of Washington, D.C., he remarked to Jackie that he could stay there forever.
After his fateful trip to Dallas later that year, the assumption was that the Kennedy’s would follow tradition and have JFK buried in his home state of Massachusetts. But Jackie, recalling his remark, decided to have him buried at Arlington instead. It’s worth noting that Taft, while a proud son of Ohio, spent most of his adult life in service to the federal government in Washington. His burial at Arlington fit that tradition, and he and Kennedy are the only Presidents buried there.
When announcing her decision, Jackie Kennedy famously proclaimed her reasoning that “he belongs to the people.” This statement, along with increased tourism-related visits of those wishing to pay their respects to the slain president, began to change the prominence and perception of Arlington. As a result, requests for burial there began to increase rapidly. At the time, it was mostly like any other veterans cemetery, but a 400% increase in burial requests in the few years after JFK was buried led to a further tightening on the requirements (which, in turn, has helped raise its prominence even more).
A decade later, President Nixon ended the draft. This has directly led to fewer Americans serving in the military, and indirectly to fewer veterans serving in federal elected office. So at the same time that burial at Arlington became seen as one of the highest honors our country could bestow on the deceased, the number of politicians who are eligible has been decreasing. That makes the burials of Lugar and Bayh stand out all the more, and perhaps continuing to feed the misconception of why people are buried at Arlington.
All of that is to say, then, that the list of prominent politicians buried at Arlington is not as large as one might guess. The list of Hoosier politicians is even smaller: Governor Paul McNutt, Sen. Vance Hartke, and Rep. Frank McCloskey. But there is no provision for service as Governor, and McNutt wouldn’t even qualify because he served as the National Commander of the American Legion. Instead, he qualifies because he served in the army during World War I, and later as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines.
Beyond McNutt, Hartke, and McCloskey, I can find no record of any other prominent Hoosier politician buried in Arlington. But there are plenty of stories about unknown Hoosier heroes to be found, such as that of Carl Mann of Evansville. Mann was buried at Arlington last month, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. He not only stormed Omaha Beach, but was also present at the other four major battle sites in the European Theater. He served as one of only 28 forward observers doing advanced scouting for General Patton—and was one of only three to come home. He was one of the first to arrive at the Battle of the Bulge, and was the first American to reach the gates of two different Nazi concentration camps and begin to liberate its prisoners. For those interested in who is buried at Arlington, I encourage you to look up his story, and those of the other less-prominent Hoosiers who lie in rest there.
And if you’re curious about the final resting place of other Hoosier politicians? Look no further than Crown Hill in Indianapolis. While it contains a national veterans cemetery with less strict requirements, it’s also where you can also find 25% (11 of 44) of deceased Indiana governors, 75% (3 of 4) of our deceased Hoosier Vice Presidents, and 100% (Benjamin Harrison) of Hoosier Presidents. In addition, there are dozens of other U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and state legislators buried there.