HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — After Kenny Elliot of James City County saw our investigative report in April about Arlington National Cemetery, it seemed all too familiar.
He too was having a tough time burying his mother next to his father at America’s most noted military resting place.
Air Force pilot Robert Elliot was shot down over Vietnam more than 50 years ago. It happened on a day we associate with true love, so they belonged together and the family would see to it.
“My mother was a hardcore Air Force pilot’s wife. She never talked about the Air Force,” Elliot said Wednesday, sitting in the Hampton home where he and his three siblings were raised.
But Billie Elliot had a story to tell about her husband. He was flying his F-105 Thunderbird over Hanoi 51 years ago.
The man she loved, on the day for lovers.
“February 14, Valentine’s Day of ’68,” Elliot said.
But then the family faced decades of uncertainty, because it took the Air Force more than 30 years to positively identify the remains of Captain Bob Elliot. By 1999, DNA testing gave the family the answer they had been seeking.
“They identified his plane crash site and recovered his remains, and those were brought to the Hawaii identification laboratory, and then he was identified from DNA that my family provided.”
In 2000, the Elliot family laid their husband and father to rest in Arlington. By then, he had been posthumously promoted to colonel.
“Mom requested to be buried with him.”
The Elliot family wouldn’t have it any other way. Billie lived 19 more years, dying this past January, more than 50 years after her husband’s fateful flight.
Their son handled the arrangements with Arlington, and it became a battle.
“It wasn’t so much that we had to wait six months or a year. We waited a year for my father. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was just give me a date so I can start planning.”
And Arlington has rules.
“They instructed me that they would only communicate with the funeral home. (I told them) my uncle would like to do the eulogy, (They) said no, the service is a set format and we don’t deviate it from it. I was pretty irate after hearing that.”
“They pretty much worked with us at that point.”
Billie will be buried next Wednesday. Elliot says the organist and chaplain will accommodate the songs and scripture the family wants.
“My family’s gonna be grateful to join her and my father after all these years.”
Arlington tells us they handle dozens of funerals each day. Elliot says he gets that. He says he learned just how busy, when he was told a family gets 20 minutes at the chapel, 10 minutes at the gravesite.
And then it’s time for the next funeral.