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Fiasco at Arlington National Cemetery

On June 10, 2010, Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced the results of an Army investigation prompted by a series of articles published on salon.com citing employee misconduct at Arlington National Cemetery. “I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones.” he told a Pentagon news conference.

The investigation, headed by Lt. Gen Steven Whitcomb, found cemetery mismanagement, improper contracting, and an outdated, paper-based record keeping system that had been largely neglected. Said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) in a conference call with reporters on June 24, “We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled.” Additionally, many of the issues uncovered in a 1997 inspection report were never addressed by cemetery staff.

Lt. Whitcomb said that at least 211 remains were identified as potentially mislabeled or misplaced and that there could be more. He told reporters “We found nothing that was intentional, criminal intent or intended sloppiness that caused this. … But of all the things in the world, we see this as a zero defect operation.” In addition to the mishandling of remains, the investigation found several headstones in a nearby stream, 117 grave sites without headstones, 94 grave sites marked as unoccupied that had headstones, four urns that were disinterred and dumped in an area reserved for removed grave dirt, and the Army said it is still not certain it has uncovered all the mistakes.

In response to the findings of the investigation, Arlington’s superintendent, John Metzler Jr., and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham were removed from their posts. John Metzler had been there for 19 years and his father was also superintendent at one point as well. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee said that he is “downright angry,” and is demanding that the Army check all 300,000+ grave sites for accuracy. “I am afraid that the 200 irregularities associated with the gravesites may be only a fraction of the problem,” he said, “We must be prepared that a 100% survey of the cemetery and all of its operations, … will yield a large number of problems that must be addressed.”

More than 300,000 people are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with an average of about 30 funerals are conducted there each day. Two presidents, many generals and admirals, and men and women who served in the US military, their spouses, and children are buried there. Since 1990, burials at Arlington have increased exponentially to 100,000, while the cemetery staff has decreased from 140 to 97.

While we have not had anyone contact us directly yet, as experts in Veterans arrangements, we are happy to help New Hampshire families who have loved ones interred at Arlington cemetery by connecting them to the right resources to make sure there are no problems.

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