Burial held for pilot

Avid Ho and Avid Ho

ARLINGTON, Va. -Charles Frank Burlingame III, described as a gifted pilot who could “make the jets talk,” was buried at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, three months after terrorists crashed his plane into the Pentagon.

“I’m sure it never occurred to him that the battlefields he spent his life learning about would extend to the cockpit of his commercial airliner,” said Naval Reserve Capt. Barton Whitman, a close friend of the pilot, who was known as “Chic.”

Burlingame, 51, a former Navy flier and 17-year Naval reservist, was initially denied his own grave at Arlington because he died before age 60, the eligibility age for reservists.

Army officials said he could have his cremated remains placed in the cemetery’s columbarium or share his parents’ plot. Burlingame’s family protested, saying his long military history and the fact that he died in the Sept. 11 attacks should have been taken into account.

Army Secretary Thomas White reversed the decision last week so the pilot could have his own grave.

Several hundred people attended the funeral at Fort Myer Memorial Chapel. A mix of friends and family, fellow American Airlines pilots and Navy officers all in uniform, the mourners stood to hear a rendition of “On Eagles’ Wings.”

Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, a Naval Academy classmate, said Burlingame “was a gifted aviator. He could make the jets talk. He knew how to fly.” Keating said in the 1960s, he helped give Burlingame a second nickname, “Gramps,” after spotting him in a pair of red leather slippers.

Whitman described his friend, who served several tours at the Navy’s elite Top Gun school, as “a blend of Tom Cruise and John Belushi” who was a patriot but also liked to play.

Addressing the terrorists, Whitman said: “We are a nation of Chic Burlingames and you can never impose your will on us.”

A caisson pulled by six black horses carried Burlingame’s body to the grave site, not far from where his parents are buried. Burlingame received a funeral with full Navy honors, including a military band and a rifle salute.

Adm. Christopher Weaver, commandant of the Naval District of Washington, presented Burlingame’s widow, Sheri, with the folded American flag that had draped over her husband’s coffin.

Later, Mrs. Burlingame appeared to be near tears as she stared for a long moment at her husband?s casket before placing a red rose atop it.

Dr. Mark Burlingame, the pilot’s younger brother, said he did not know what happened on Flight 77, but he was sure his brother “fought with every last ounce of his strength.”

When the burial site was in doubt, veterans offered to give up their own plots, said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who had asked President Bush to grant an exemption. Allen said at the funeral that Burlingame was “a true American patriot who paid the ultimate sacrifice as one of our nations first warriors to perish in the war on terrorism.”

Burial with his parents would have meant that Burlingame’s widow could not be laid to rest beside him. Also, that would have denied Burlingame, of Herndon, Va., his own tombstone, with his name placed on the back of the family plot marker.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced legislation Thursday to eliminate the age requirement for in-ground burial at Arlington.