SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Judge George Leighton to get dying wish of Arlington burial

SHARE SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Judge George Leighton to get dying wish of Arlington burial

Then U.S. District Judge George N. Leighton in 1976. Sun-Times file photo by Jim Klepitsch.

It’s happening!

Sneed is told the late, great Chicago Judge George N. Leighton’s final wish before his death recently — at the age of 105 — is being granted.

Leighton’s wish, which was to be buried as a soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, was exclusively reported in this column this year.

Leighton, a World War II veteran who had a stellar career as a jurist and civil rights advocate, died on D-Day, June 6 — before a decision was reached.

“Tears of joy are flowing now,” e-mailed Langdon Neal, the executor of Leighton’s estate, advising family and friends a thumbs-up had been given to Leighton’s dream.

“I have just completed a lengthy phone call from the exceptions specialist, Barbara Dunlop from Arlington National Cemetery, who informed me that George N. Leighton MEETS the qualifications for an underground burial at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors,” he stated.

“I am told that I will be contacted by the scheduling team to discuss details of the service. I cannot adequately express my overwhelming joy and gratitude for this news. I thank all those who have undertaken the laboring oar to achieve this wonderful result. We should notify our distinguished supporters of this decision and I will leave this to others to deliver this news. God Bless George N. Leighton.“

Said attorney Jeff Colman: “He [Leighton] was one of the greatest lawyers of last 100 years. He went to Alabama to fight for voting rights in 1949; and then went to Mississippi in the 1950s to fight to integrate grand juries — and before that he could not rent an office in the Loop when he moved here in 1946!”

Leighton’s wish was complicated by the rigid burial requirements at Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the U.S. Army. Under its rules, service members who qualify for in-ground burial must either have retired from 20 years on active duty, received certain decorations (Silver Star or higher, or a Purple Heart), been held as prisoners of war, or died on active duty.

Leighton was awarded a Purple Heart for his World War II service.

Sneed is told letters of support were written by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin; Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Chief Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier; U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ruben Castillo and Federal Court of Appeals Chief Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“He [Leighton] served as a captain in a segregated unit in the Pacific campaign as a logistics officer,” Robert Whitfield, husband of Leighton’s daughter, Barbara, told Sneed earlier. “We are hoping, based on his civil rights and jurist history, his wish might be granted.”

Initially, the Veteran Caucus of the Chicago City Council sponsored a resolution urging the federal government to accommodate Leighton’s wish and organize an effort to see whether his dream can be fulfilled.

Then Durbin jumped on board pledging to help in any way he could.

“While this is a complex issue, I am working to find any way I can help,” Durbin added.

“Judge Leighton is the type of man who helped make the country great, contrary to the ugly rhetoric being used by our president who thinks he can make America great again by smearing African nations and Haiti with ugly names,” said Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) — who along with Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), Ald. Milly Santiago (31st); Ald. George Cardenas (12th); Ald. Danny Solis (25th); and Ald. Edward Burke (14th) — is a member of the Veteran Caucus.

“This is a classic example of an American immigrant story,” said Burke. “His parents came to the United States via the Cape Verde Islands to Massachusetts and worked in the cranberry bogs. So did he. Judge Leighton never graduated from high school, but he graduated from Harvard. An amazing story.

“He felt honored serving in the U.S. Army,” said Whitfield. “Whenever we’d talk, he said he wanted to be buried at Arlington. I said I would look into it. He used to marvel nothing happened to him during the war. Bullets would fly by. He felt God was with him. He was never injured and everyone around him was being shot.”

Added Burke: “As Illinois celebrates the bicentennial year, Judge Leighton, one of the most distinguished citizens of the land of Lincoln, should be granted his hope to have his final resting place in Arlington Cemetery.”

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