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At Arlington Cemetery, Wrongly Marked Graves, Mismanagement

The Secretary of the Army released a report on alleged problems at Arlington National Cemetery today.
The Secretary of the Army released a report on alleged problems at Arlington National Cemetery today.

At a news conference at the Department of Defense today, Secretary of the Army John McHugh presented the results of a six-month Army inquiry into problems at Arlington National Cemetery, including improperly marked graves, mismanagement, bad recordkeeping, and wire fraud.

The investigation, conducted by the Inspector General of the Army, determined that the cemetery's mission "was hampered by dysfunctional management, a lack of established policy and procedures, and an overall unhealthy organizational climate."

The report also determined the improper internment and transinternment of remains, to include the loss of accountability of remains, remains in graves listed as empty, unmarked grave sites, improperly marked graves, and improper handling of cremated remains.

"That all ends today," McHugh said, adding that "the majority of the findings in this report are deeply troubling and simply unacceptable."

There's simply no excuse. And on behalf of the United States Army, on behalf of myself, I deeply apologize the families of the honored fallen, resting in that hallowed ground, who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones.

As a result of inquiry, McHugh established a new position: executive director of the Army national cemeteries program.

The person in that role will have "total supervisory powers pertaining to all business and operational activities associated with Army cemeteries," McHugh said, adding that he has appointed Kathryn A. Condon to fill the job.

She will supervise John C. Metzler, Jr., the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, who announced his plans to retire yesterday.  McHugh told reporters Metzler's deputy has been placed on immediate administrative leave.

"Grave offenses at Arlington National Cemetery," an article reported by Salon's Mark Benjamin, prompted the inquiry by the Inspector General.

In his piece, Benjamin noted that, despite an expensive attempt to modernize the cemetery's records, it "still relies mostly on paper burial records that in some cases do not match the headstones."

Further, he discovered gravesites in poor condition, neglected by grounds crews.

In a relatively remote area of the cemetery, where 600 service members from Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest, personal mementos placed on graves are left out to rot in the rain for days, ruined by workers with power washers, or thrown into a trash bin.

McHugh said that the report renders 76 findings and some 101 recommendations. He plans to establish a new cemetery advisory commission, with help from former Senators -- and decorated military veterans -- Bob Dole and Max Cleland.

The report, in its entirety, and McHugh's recommendations are available on the Army's website.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.