More parts of Arlington Cemetery to be checked for missing or wrong gravestones
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Army investigators could find many more unmarked or unidentified graves as they widen their probe into Arlington National Cemetery, a process that could take months as a new leadership team takes over the cemetery, officials said.
A day after the Army secretary released a scathing report that depicted the cemetery as dysfunctional and chaotic, veterans and the families of fallen service members reacted with outrage Friday, and Army officials continued to apologize for what they called "unacceptable" conditions at the cemetery.
The investigation by the Army's inspector general found more than 200 unmarked or misidentified graves that were the result of dated and sloppy record-keeping and poor management. It remained unclear Friday whether officials would exhume remains or use X-ray or other technology to determine who is buried where.
As a result of the scandal, the Army reprimanded Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr., who is retiring July 2, and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, who was placed on administrative leave pending a disciplinary review. The pair's "long-standing rift" was at the heart of the cemetery's problems, investigators found.
"It is clear that their failure to effectively communicate with each other, coupled with their obvious lack of mutual trust and respect for the other . . . is largely responsible for [the] unhealthy and ineffective organizational climate," investigators wrote.
McHugh appointed Kathryn Condon, a veteran civilian Army executive, to oversee the cemetery and continue the investigation, which began last year after complaints from family members and a series of reports at Salon.com about the problems.
So far, investigators have found 117 graves that are marked as occupied on cemetery maps but have no headstones. There are 94 more marked on maps as unoccupied even though they have headstones. In addition, the investigation found that at least four burial urns were unearthed and dumped in an area where excess dirt is kept.
Investigators have looked at 18 of the cemetery's 70 sections and found that most of the problems were in sections 59, 65 and 66, where those who served anytime between World War I and Vietnam are buried. Sections 65 and 66 were closed in 2003; Section 59 is still active. Officials declined to name any of the fallen whose graves could have been impacted.
As the probe continues, investigators will examine more of the 624-acre cemetery, which could lead to the revelation of even more problems, said Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman.
"The investigators went where their sources and information led them to go," he said. In the weeks and months ahead, "the new leadership team is going to reestablish the baseline of accountability, and they are going to take a hard look at every section."
A call center to address concerns about burials has been set up: 703-607-8199.
The Army's criminal investigation division conducted two reviews of its own. The first found that an employee's e-mail account had been illegally accessed, but investigators could not determine by whom. The second involved allegations of conflict of interest between Arlington personnel and a civilian contractor.