Army: Problems found with more than 200 graves at Arlington
By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 10, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. — At least 211 people are buried in unmarked or misidentified graves at Arlington National Cemetery, top Army officials announced on Thursday.
“There could in fact be more,” said Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, Army Inspector General, who said two of the problem grave sites are in Section 60, home to Iraq and Afghanistan fallen.
Whitcomb and Army Secretary John McHugh announced the findings of an inspection of operations at Arlington that found the cemetery is hampered by “dysfunctional management,” McHugh said.
The report notes problems including remains in graves listed as empty, unmarked graves and improperly handled cremated remains.
“That all ends today,” he said.
The Army has established a new executive director to oversee management at Army cemeteries and address the problems raised by the report, he said.
Retiring Arlington Superintendent John Metzler is receiving a reprimand and his benefits could be reduced, McHugh said. Metzler’s deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, is on administrative leave “pending the completion of other personnel actions.”
McHugh bristled when asked why no one was fired outright for the failings cited in the report.
“First of all, the 211 graves have not been ascribed against any individual,” McHugh said.
There is also a process that the Army must follow on such matters, he said.
“As to Mr. Higginbotham, as I said, there is a due process that he entitled to and we are following forward with that and it is custom and, I think, appropriate that we provide to him his due as to presumptions of innocence and we don’t talk about what he did and what he is accused of … until that is completed,” McHugh said.
The House Armed Services Committee will conduct its own investigation into problems at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a news release from Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo.
“Arlington National Cemetery is a sacred shrine and it breaks my heart to learn about mismarked gravesites, mishandling of remains, missing documentation, and failures to notify next-of-kin,” Skelton said in a news release. “This conduct is disgraceful and cannot be tolerated.”
McHugh’s voice wavered as he offered an apology Thursday for the problems that the inspection uncovered.
“As to the negative findings of the report, there is simply no excuse,” he said. “And on behalf of the United States Army and on behalf of myself, I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones.”