Last year, The Washington Post found that in a section for former slaves and black Civil War soldiers, cemetery maps showed a strip where 70 graves should have been. Today, not a single tombstone is there.
The report acknowledged the problems in that section and older ones like it. “Historically the records and grounds in these sections were not maintained to the same standards as the rest of the cemetery,” it said.
Resolving some of the problems has taken much effort. In one case, the cemetery found a grave site for a couple who died in the early 1900s with the last name “Keiner.” The paperwork for the wife, however, spelled the name “Kiner.” Task force officials spent hours trying to determine the correct spelling. Eventually they found a census roster from 1900 that listed “Keiner.” A regimental muster log from the Civil War also confirmed that spelling.
When reviewing some of the older sections of the cemetery, officials were initially alarmed to find many of the wives’ graves missing. But as they researched the paperwork, they discovered that the “decision to omit the spouse’s information on the headstone was deliberate.”
“Between the 1920s and the 1940s, it was apparently a culturally acceptable practice to inter a spouse in the same grave with her husband without including her name on the headstone,” the report said.
In those cases, the cemetery said it would replace headstones or add markers at the foot of the graves to note the wives’ interment.
Cemetery officials also found that a soldier had two graves: one for his amputated leg and another for the man when he died years later.
Signs of improvement
In recent months, the cemetery has received widespread praise for fixing many of the past problems there and for creating a system designed to prevent such mistakes from happening again. Last week, a review of the cemetery by the Government Accountability Office found that the Army “has taken positive steps to address management deficiencies at Arlington and has implemented improvements across a range of areas.”
On Thursday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who sponsored the legislation requiring the cemetery’s accountability effort, praised the cemetery’s leadership, saying that Arlington “is now a turnaround story.”