Officials at Arlington National Cemetery are reportedly struggling to determine who has reserved plots and whether some of those grave sites are already in use at the nation's premier military resting place.
Due to years of sloppy recordkeeping, officials at the 624-acre cemetery have no reliable data on how many reservations have been made. That obstacle -- coupled with the discovery that an unofficial reservation system for VIPs continued for decades, in violation of Army regulations -- represents a new challenge for the cemetery's new leaders, the Washington Post reports.
Army investigators discovered last year that graves were misidentified and unmarked; burial urns had been dumped; and millions of dollars were wasted on multiple failed attempts to digitize the cemetery's paper record system. Those developments led to the Army's ousting of the cemetery's top two officials, Superintendent John Metzler Jr. and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham.
Since those departures, however, additional problems have emerged, including the discovery of people buried in wrong plots and a mass grave that contained eight sets of cremated remains, the Post reports.
Kathryn Condon, who was appointed executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program last year in the aftermath of the scandal, said the cemetery has 3,500 reservations on file, but that there could be more.
“As part of our accountability, we’re going to look at all of those reservations,” she told the newspaper.
Cemetery officials have no idea how many of the reservations on file are still valid, Condon said. And officials aren’t sure whether everyone on the list is still alive -- some reservations date to the late 1800s -- or still wants to be buried at Arlington. They also don’t know how many plots are marked as “reserved” on cemetery maps. But the number could be substantial. The Washington Post counted nearly 300 such plots in a prestigious section near the Memorial Amphitheater that had 1,361 grave sites.
Condon pledged to the American Legion on Monday to do everything in her power to restore the public's trust in Arlington.
"I know the past mismanagement of Arlington has caused great consternation to not only the American public, but to Congress," Condon said. "But most importantly, I know the impact of the mismanagement that's been reported on each and every one of you that's a veteran, and their loved ones. [The past issues] have all shattered the public's trust. But I'm here to tell you that the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, has stood up and acknowledged the problems at Arlington, and has taken full responsibility for what you're reading about in the papers."