Burial incidents prompt Army probe of Arlington National Cemetery

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Army ordered an investigation Friday into operations at Arlington National Cemetery after questions about apparently improper burials.

Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement that the service's inspector general will look into what he said was "lost accountability" of some graves, as well as poor record-keeping and other issues at the cemetery, the nation's best-known burial ground for its military heroes.

The Army said that McHugh's order came after two separate incidents, which were first reported by Salon.com.

One was the revelation that cemetery workers inadvertently buried cremated remains at a gravesite that was already in use. According to the statement, corrective measures were taken immediately, but questions were raised about whether proper procedures were used in correcting the error.

In addition, the Army said the Military District of Washington, which has responsibility for the cemetery, has concluded an internal investigation into the discovery of an unmarked grave.

According to a Military District spokesman, the investigation and other evidence "strongly indicate" that a husband and wife who died years apart and should have been buried in the same gravesite were instead buried in adjacent graves. Family members declined to have the remains exhumed, which could have provided 100 percent certainty, the Army said.

The Army said the unmarked grave was discovered in 2003, but cemetery officials did not act until this year.

Cemetery officials have ordered new grave markers for the site, the Army said.

The Army's inspector general has already begun a management review of the cemetery, initiated under a previous secretary. This examination is intended to lead to recommendations on how better to operate the facility, including possible changes in policy, procedures and regulations.

In the statement, McHugh called the cemetery "a place of reverence and respect for all Americans," and said that a thorough investigation, with transparent results, "can help correct whatever may be wrong, and ensure America's confidence in the operation of its most hallowed ground."

Arlington, according to its Web site, is visited by 4 million people a year and traces its history as an official military cemetery to 1864. More than 300,000 people are buried there.

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