A group of military service members who wanted to honor a fallen Marine at Arlington National Cemetery were told only close family members could visit due to the pandemic — but after contacting News4, they have been approved to visit the cemetery.
Marine Corps Sgt. Joe Wrightsman drowned in Afghanistan 10 years ago while trying to save an Afghan policeman.
"Joe went in after him with a full combat load, carrying a good 70-80 pounds of weight on top of him. Went into the water trying to save this guy. He didn't make it out," retired Sgt. Mike Barnhouse said.
Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of Sgt. Wrightsman’s selfless act of heroism.
Members of his squad have long been planning a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to visit his grave. For many, it would be their first time there.
"It's closure for some people," Barnhouse said.
The guys had their flights booked and t-shirts made with Wrightsman’s image.
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But Barnhouse said on Friday he received a letter from the cemetery saying he was denied access because he is not related to Wrightsman.
Barnhouse said when he received the letter it felt like "something got ripped away from me."
The cemetery has been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and visitors must be close family members.
Barnhouse, who lives in California, said he understood the cemetery's concerns, but hoped something could be worked out since he and his comrades were planning to visit D.C. regardless.
"It's not about us. It's about them and it's about the honor and the memory of these people that were buried there and we're being denied that and I don't think that's right," Barnhouse said.
"It's one of those things that doesn't come around but once in a lifetime, the 10 year anniversary," he said.
He reached out to News4 for help when he says he hit a wall in his effort to resolve the issue.
News4 then reached out to the cemetery's public affairs office, which agreed to review his request.
Barnhouse said he got a call from cemetery security Monday evening and was told his pass was approved.
He and his friends will be allowed in and will be allowed to visit their friend’s grave.