Anger and grief over Arlington Cemetery disaster
Published: June 11, 2010
Veterans groups reacted quickly and harshly to news yesterday that the remains of more than 200 veterans were misplaced or lost by workers at Arlington National Cemetery, demanding immediate improvements to Amry records systems and a change in the "culture of complacency" at the hallowed site.
Shortly after the Pentagon press conference yesterday House Armed Services Committee leaders announced plans to hold hearings on the problems at Arlington. Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., noted the staff's conduct "is disgraceful and cannot be tolerated." Ranking member Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said "families demand, and most importantly, deserve to know that their loved ones are being treated with the utmost respect and decorum."
No timetable has been set for those hearings, but House Veterans Affairs committee ranking member Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said his office will also push for Arlington to adopt a new database of gravesites at Arlington (Army Secretary John McHugh endorsed the idea as well), noting that the VA's national cemetery administration already uses such a system.
Still, for many veterans groups the damage has already been done. Here's a look at reactions from across the veterans' community:
VFW: “We are angry that senior cemetery and possible Army officials permitted a climate of complacency not only to exist, but to exacerbate. We are angry about how long this condition would have continued unchallenged — literally in the backyard of Headquarters, U.S. Army — had it not been for one reporter who was doing his job. And the VFW is deeply saddened by the thought of all the family members who are just now learning that their loved one may, potentially, not be resting in peace. There is no excuse or apology great enough to erase their disappointment or anxiety.”
American Legion: "We are disturbed any time we hear that our nation's heroes are treated in an undignified manner. The findings in the report are quite serious, but Secretary McHugh is to be commended for taking decisive action to correct what he called 'dysfunctional management.' Our heroes at Arlington gave their all. We must not fail them.”
SpouseBuzz: "There are excuses being offered as explanations for this as the story is unfolding; antiquated records and the omnipresent word-parsing that refers to this problem as ‘mismanagement.’ Mismanagement is screwing up tax payments. Mismanagement is forgetting to pay the utility bill. Mismanagement is not desecrating those who gave their lives for their country. And desecration is the only word I can think of that even comes close to what this truly is.”
IAVA: "Our members across the country are concerned and outraged over the findings of the Army Inspector General. It is absolutely unacceptable that something like this would happen at America's most sacred burial ground. We expect swift action from the Pentagon and the Administration.”
AMVETS: “Arlington National Cemetery is sacred ground for our nation’s veterans and these kinds of mistakes are inexcusable. These sorts of careless and avoidable errors dishonor the sacrifices of those laid to rest at Arlington, and they’re deeply hurtful to the families left to mourn. To surviving veterans, these kinds of oversights are offensive, which is why we must work to ensure that all such errors are uncovered and similar mistakes are never made again.”