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Some vets say Wagner qualified by his service

August 05, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A horrible act later in life shouldn't negate a veteran's earlier military service, a handful of veterans said Thursday, reacting to the news that a double-murderer's ashes are at Arlington National Cemetery.

The double-murderer is Russell Wayne Wagner, who was convicted of the 1994 slayings of Daniel and Wilda Davis of Hagerstown. Wagner was sentenced in 2002 to two consecutive life sentences.

Wagner, 52, died in prison on Feb. 2. At the request of his sister, Karen Anderson of Silver Spring, Md., his ashes were placed in a columbarium, or vault for urns, during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on July 27.

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A cemetery representative didn't know Wagner's criminal past until The Herald-Mail told her Wednesday.

Veterans who commented Thursday said the crime, as awful as it might be, doesn't change Wagner's military past.

According to Lori Calvillo, a public affairs officer for the cemetery, Wagner was a Private 1st Class in the U.S. Army and served from Sept. 13, 1969, to Sept. 1, 1972. He was honorably discharged.

"I think your military service should be the deciding factor," said Wayne Taylor of Hagerstown, who retired after 39 years in the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves and West Virginia Air National Guard.

Alan Shane of Williamsport said he hurts for the Davis family, but there is nothing to do now about Wagner's death and final resting place.

Before Wagner committed the murders, "he did serve in the military and he served with honesty," said Shane, who was with the U.S. Army's Office of Public Information during the Korean War.

"It's tragic that he did what he was convicted of doing after (his) military experience," but it didn't erase his military service, said John Sommer, executive director of the American Legion's Washington, D.C., office.

Anthony Pruchniewski of Hagerstown, the president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County, has mixed feelings, but said honorable discharge should be the main factor.

"I really leave it up to the discretion of the cemetery," he said.

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