An article Sunday reported incomplete guidelines for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition to those the article listed, guidelines also make eligible any member of the armed services who dies while on active duty. (Published 2/20/91)
When John C. Metzler Jr. started his job as superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery last month, one thing he didn't need was a tour of the grounds.
Metzler, 39, was already intimately acquainted with much of the cemetery's 612 acres, having tobogganed down its slopes and played among its headstones as a child.
Until he was 19, the nation's most famous cemetery also was home for Metzler, whose father was superintendent from 1951 to 1972.
Last month, Metzler assumed the job his father once had, a job he has aspired to for years.
"I never knew my dad was so busy," said Metzler, a jovial man with a ready smile. "I never understood the intricacies of the job and the people you're interacting with at high levels."
He succeeded Raymond J. Costanzo, who retired from the Arlington job after 15 years. This summer, Metzler, his wife, Kathy, and their three teenage sons will move into the cemetery's two-story stucco lodge where he spent his boyhood.
As superintendent, Metzler oversees maintenance of the cemetery's grounds and buildings, visited by nearly 4 million tourists each year. The job also carries with it ceremonial duties, such as attendance at wreath-layings at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The most important part of the superintendent's job, which pays $70,000 a year, is working with families as they bury their loved ones, Metzler said.
On Friday, Metzler handled the cemetery's first burial from Operation Desert Storm, that of Marine Capt. Jonathan R. Edwards. The Grand Rapids, Mich., father of three was killed in a helicopter crash in the desert.
Services also were conducted for two others who died in incidents related to the Persian Gulf War: Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bobbie E. Mozelle, 44, was gunned down by terrorists in Turkey, and Air Force Lt. Jorge Arteaga, 26, was killed when the B-52 on which he flew crashed into the Indian Ocean.
"It is a wonderful thing to be able to extend your help to people in a time of great need and sorrow," Metzler said.
From the start, it seemed as if Metzler were destined for the job. He alone, of the four Metzler boys, had an uncanny ease with the pomp and ceremony at scores of funerals he attended as a child. After funerals of the highest-ranking dead, he said, he often was allowed to climb on the ceremonial caisson or ride the horse which had led the procession.
Metzler's first job was in cemetery management, and he has never been tempted to work in another field. Most recently, he served as area director of 40 cemeteries in the Northeast operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Until the late 1970s, Metzler was out of the running for the job in Arlington, because federal requirements said the superintendent had to be a disabled veteran. Metzler served in Vietnam for three years but was never seriously injured.
Once the restriction was gone, he could attain what he called his "ultimate goal."
Although guidelines on who may administer the cemetery have eased, restrictions have tightened over the years on who may be buried there. Once open to any service member who received an honorable discharge, burial at Arlington now is available only to those who have received military combat medals and their families. Any service member who receives an honorable discharge can have his or her cremated remains placed there.
About 200,000 veterans and their family members are buried in the cemetery. Metzler said he does not expect the war in the Persian Gulf to greatly add to the number of graves there, since most soldiers are buried in their home towns.
As he was growing up, Metzler's unusual address made for ribbing by classmates at school and difficulties in his social life. "You always got a strange look when you had to give someone your address," he said.
Once he became a teenager, problems increased.
"After 5 o'clock, the gates are locked here," Metzler explained. "We had to know when someone was coming so we could let them in."
Now, Metzler said, his sons worry that living at the cemetery might cramp their social lives. "They haven't lived in a cemetery before. They worry about there not being a corner store, that kind of thing."
Metzler has firsthand experience of burying a family member at Arlington. His father died at 81 and was buried there last year, just six months before Metzler took over the superintendent's job.
Although his father never learned that his son would follow in his footsteps at Arlington, Metzler said, his father was always "proud as can be" that a son had pursued the same line of work.
"I know my dad's up there looking down at me," Metzler said, "and I know he's smiling."