Burial Battle: Son of military couple fights to arrange mother’s funeral at Arlington

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Military families know that while one spouse is sacrificing life and limb, the other spouse makes important sacrifices, too. The son of a Norfolk military couple wants his mother to get the same sendoff as his Navy father at Arlington National Cemetery.

Arch Di Peppe says there was never any doubt his mother would be buried next to his father at Arlington. He won’t rest until she does — not just in the proper place, but in the proper way.

“They both loved to dance and they loved big band music,” Arch Di Peppe said as he remembers his father and mother.

Joseph was a Navy chief. He joined in 1940 and survived Pearl Harbor. Eleanor was a Navy wife and mother.

Di Peppe pointed to an inscription Eleanor wrote to Joseph on one of their anniversary pictures.

To the best husband in the whole world.

“(They had) just a very strong marriage. I grew up as a Navy kid.”

The family lived in Norfolk’s Ocean View section. His father was in the Navy until 1961.

“My mom was the glue just like all military wives. They don’t get the recognition. They’re not even noticed. They’re the glue that holds the whole thing together.”

Joseph died in ’93 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Then his mother died just this past January.

“My dad was there. There was no other place in the world that I was going to arrange her funeral.”

Anytime but August, based on past experience.

“My dad was interred in August and it was unbearably hot.”

He started the process of arranging his mother’s funeral March 5 by calling ANC.

“I asked them was how far out are you scheduled and they said early June. I said that would be terrific.”

Arlington’s rules say the oldest child must handle the arrangements.

So now he needs a notarized letter or a signed affidavit from his older brother. His brother has Alzheimer’s disease.

“They said they needed it anyway.” Keep in mind, Di Peppe was already the executor of his mother’s will. “I thought it was crazy.”

Then they needed his father’s DD-214, his Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, from 58 years ago. But Eleanor had already provided that in ’93 when Joseph was buried there.

“Before I could schedule the funeral, I had to go find the document that they lost — to prove something they already knew.” ANC sent us a statement regarding the document, arrangements for Eleanor Di Peppe, and wait times for military burials in general.

Every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) deserves our full care and attention to detail. Families who reach out to us during their time of need require a prompt, compassionate, and professional response. If we fell short in our communication with Arthur Di Peppe, we offer our sincere apologies.

There is a high volume demand for burial services at Arlington National Cemetery. ANC conducts approximately 7,000 military burials annually. The wait time times average 30 weeks or more and we experience longer wait times for certain branches of service. The Navy experiences the longest wait times; funeral services for cremated remains usually exceeds four months for anyone other than active duty service members killed in action. Saturday placement for inurnments which require no military service member support can be scheduled immediately and this was an option presented to the Di Peppe family.

When Joseph Di Peppe was laid to rest in 1993, Arlington National Cemetery used a paper-based system. At that time, ANC did not maintain the DD Form 214. In 2010, the cemetery began overhauling the interment scheduling system and transitioned to a paperless system digitizing older paper records. The system is backed up in multiple locations to ensure that the records are protected and available for future generations. Since then, Arlington has achieved a baseline accountability of its burial records and created a single, verifiable and authoritative database of all those laid to rest at Arlington. This database is linked to a digital mapping system, which allows Arlington to assign, manage and track gravesites electronically. On occasions when we do second interments and the eligible Veteran was buried here long ago, we may need to request a DD Form 214. In the case of Mr. Di Peppe’s burial in 1993, the Veteran’s service was verified telephonically through the Navy service’s microfiche process and therefore to complete the record, ANC requested a copy of the Veteran’s eligibility document, the DD Form 214. This is not indicative of a larger issue and does not cause a delay in the scheduling of Eleanor Di Peppe’s funeral service. This burial case was created on March 5, 2019 and the family provided the DD Form 214 on March 11, 2019.

Due to current wait times and our commitment to facilitating requests for services in the order received, the Di Peppe family will be contacted later this summer to schedule this service.

Thank you for bringing Di Peppe’s concerns to our attention. We encourage Arthur to reach out to us for any further assistance he may need.


Kerry Meeker Media Chief Arlington National Cemetery

Now it was a search and recovery mission through family records.

“I had to go through boxes and boxes, but I found it. Within six days I got them everything they wanted, including her death certificate and her cremation certificate.”

But then Di Peppe faced another major glitch.

“(They said) we’re ready to schedule your mother’s funeral in August,” after offering June just a week earlier.

So Arlington offers another option: A Saturday morning in June, but a minimal service. No chaplain. No military personnel there whatsoever.

Di Peppe was trying to imagine how that would work.

“(Would they) have somebody from Buildings and Grounds show up and open (the interment vault), and we shove her in there with Dad and we close it and go away?”

Di Peppe says he can deal with lost documents and what he sees as bizarre, onerous rules. But he can’t deal with a deal-breaker.

“My mother was a devoted Navy wife through World War II and Korea. She was a volunteer at the Navy Relief Society. She was an active docent at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum at Nauticus. And for many years she was a volunteer through the Red Cross at the Sewell’s Point Medical Center,” he said as he displayed his mother’s Red Cross award for outstanding service.

Di Peppe says his mother’s service at Arlington should recognize her service to her country.

“She will have military honors. My mother deserves that. It means a lot.”

The cemetery says high demand right now means it can take several months to schedule a chaplain and casket team — so the Di Peppe family will have to wait until later this summer just to schedule the service.

Senator Tim Kaine’s staff is involved and has contacted the Department of Defense on the family’s behalf.

Di Peppe’s advises other military families considering an Arlington burial to ask lots of questions and keep a close eye throughout the process.

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