Grave markers moved at Maryland veterans’ cemetery

December 31, 2013

Grave markers were moved and the lawn was damaged Monday at a veterans’ cemetery in Prince George’s County, authorities said.

The damage to the Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery was unintentional, said the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the burial ground.

A department employee “inadvertently drove a backhoe over the saturated ground” at the cemetery, located on Route 301 in southern Prince George’s.

The accident moved “several grave markers” in addition to damaging the lawn, the department said Tuesday.

Staff members have realigned and cleaned the markers, officials said. They said restoration would include raking and seeding the affected areas. The ground was apparently saturated by Sunday’s rain, which amounted to more than an inch in some parts of the Washington area.

“This is a regretful situation,” said Edward Chow, secretary of veterans affairs. “I am deeply sorry for the events which occurred.’’

Chow said “every effort will be made to guarantee the dignity and respect of our cemeteries.”

Maryland operates five cemeteries as part of a program that officials say is intended to provide a final resting place for Maryland veterans and their eligible dependents.

In a statement prepared this year to be presented to legislative committees, the department said it would “perform perpetual care of burial areas” and their surroundings.

In the statement, officials said that more than 800 burials a year are conducted at the 102-acre site. The cemetery opened in 1978 and has become the burial site for more than 21,000 Maryland veterans and their dependents.

In his statement, Chow said the department was reviewing Monday’s incident in an effort to prevent such problems from happening again.

He said he would contact relatives of those whose grave markers were moved to assure them of the integrity of the site.

Chow also said that the department was reviewing its operating procedures to make sure that best practices are in place.

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