“In a lot of cases, the marker is absolutely right,” said Army Col. John Schrader, the co-chair of the task force. “The service was conducted flawlessly and someone wrote something on a piece of paper wrong.”
Although the review has not yet found additional people buried in the wrong spots, “the discovery of burial errors cannot be ruled out,” the report said.
Congress ordered the accounting after an Army investigation found widespread problems, including mismarked or unmarked graves, urns that had been dug up and dumped on a dirt pile, and millions of dollars wasted on contracts that produced nothing.
Since then, additional problems have been discovered, including a mass grave that held eight sets of cremated remains, prompting a criminal investigation by the FBI and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
The revelations led to the removal of the cemetery’s leadership. A new team, in place since June 2010, has embarked on an ambitious and exceedingly difficult project to document every grave.
An accountability task force has photographed every burial marker and uploaded the information to a database where it was double-checked against more than 500,000 paper records that have been scanned into the system.
So far, the task force has found no problems with 195,748 sites, according to the report. Of the other 64,230 sites, there have been some discrepancies that warrant further review. Arlington officials emphasized that those problems could be minor, such as typos in names or dates of death, and would not necessarily indicate improper burial.
Schrader said it could take an additional six months before the cemetery will be able to get through those cases. The latest review has just begun, he said, and he could not say how severe the problems are.
In an interview, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who has been monitoring the progress at Arlington and convened a council of technology companies to help the cemetery digitize its records, said he had hoped for a more complete report.
“We don’t know about this 25 percent — are they typos? Do they have remains in the wrong graves?” he said. “This raises as many questions as it answers.”
But given the age of the cemetery, resolving every discrepancy might be impossible, according to the report, which indicated that there could be additional undetected errors.
“It is important to acknowledge that interment or other errors may well be identified in the future that may not be obvious from the records,” the report said. “If found, the Army is committed to resolving these as quickly as possible.”