Arlington Cemetery’s buried secrets

Arlington admits it can't identify grave-site remains -- while new evidence casts doubt on Army investigation

Topics: Arlington National Cemetery Investigation,

Arlington Cemetery's buried secretsThis is block of empty grass is grave 449 in section 68 at Arlington National Cemetery. Officials have known for 6 years about unknown remains there.

Salon has uncovered further evidence of grave offenses at Arlington National Cemetery. It is now clear that the cemetery, which is managed by the U.S. Army and calls itself “our nation’s most sacred shrine,” lost track of the identity of remains buried in a grave, and covered up the disturbing discovery for six years. New information also casts doubt on Army statements about when the Army learned of criminal misconduct by a top cemetery official.

Last week Salon reported allegations by former and current employees that headstones and graves do not match in some cases. The article noted internal cemetery documents over the past several years that revealed “information listed on grave cards and burial records were not consistent with the information on the actual headstone.” It documented an expensive, 10-year-old effort to computerize operations at Arlington — a feat cemeteries of similar size and age have achieved relatively quickly and cheaply.

Arlington admitted to the paperwork problems but insisted the confusion stopped at the grave’s edge. When asked — “Has the cemetery ever dug a grave only to find there is already someone there, though the grave is unmarked?” — cemetery spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst responded, “We are not aware of any situation like that.”

But Salon has discovered evidence to the contrary. In 2003, Arlington workers dug into the ground at Grave 449 in Section 68 — the cemetery had paperwork that said the grave was empty — to bury somebody who had recently died. They came across remains already interred in that grave. There was no headstone. Soon after the discovery, workers filled out a grave card (obtained by Salon), generally used to note information about each burial site, with an urgent note to colleagues: “do not DO NOT USE!!! CASKET IN GRAVE REMAINS UNKNOWN.”

Since Arlington does not know the identity of the remains in Grave 449, there is no way of knowing when the burial occurred. Arlington tends to bury service members who pass away at around the same time in the each section. The graves in Section 68 are generally from the late 1980s through 2008, suggesting the original burial occurred in that era.

In response to a query about Grave 449, Arlington admitted the error. “The identity of the remains in Grave 449 in Section 68 is unknown at this time,” Horst admitted. “Arlington National Cemetery officials have known about this situation since 2003, when in the process of preparing for a burial, a casket was discovered in Grave 449 in Section 68,” she added. “At that time, a review of records took place to locate the corresponding documents. The files could not be matched and as a result, the card you have described was filed. Following your inquiry this morning, a search for corresponding records in the paper files was conducted and again, proved inconclusive.”

This discovery, Horst suggested, had an upside: It “reemphasized” the importance of the project to computerize its records. She noted that grave site 449 is the only example of this kind of screw-up. “At this time, cemetery officials are not aware of any other instances and welcome information to the contrary that suggest any further discrepancies,” she said. She did not identify the cemetery official who was the source of the previous misinformation, or the new claim that 449 is an anomaly.

You Might Also Like

Further evidence of Arlington’s malfeasance comes in a new response from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. Salon reported that Arlington Deputy Superintendent Thurmond Higginbotham was involved in the unauthorized hacking of an employee’s government computer. A July 2008 internal Army memo to Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, director of the Army staff, warned of possible e-mail hacking at Arlington.

Salon asked the Army what, if anything, Huntoon did about the allegations. Army spokesman Gary Tallman responded in a statement and suggested that Huntoon alerted the Criminal Investigation Command when he got the memo in July. “The Army viewed the allegations associated with the Cemetery very seriously, as we do any such allegation,” Tallman wrote. “Allegations of a criminal nature were referred to, and investigated by, CID.”

When recently contacted, a CID official said he heard nothing from Huntoon in July. Agents only heard about the possible unauthorized computer access when Gina Gray, a former public affairs officer at Arlington, alerted investigators in October 2008 that her Army e-mail account had been hacked. CID started its investigation the next day.

“CID became aware of the allegations involving her email account in Oct. 08 and immediately opened an investigation after receiving a sworn statement from the complainant,” Chris Grey, CID’s chief of public affairs, wrote in a statement to Salon. “According to our investigative records, evidence of someone using the complainant’s email account were not known by CID or the complainant until early Oct 08. We are unaware of any previous reports of allegations of criminal misconduct that would have fallen within the investigative responsibility of CID,” he wrote. “Any such report would have been examined to determine if there is credible information of a crime, that the crime is within the investigative purview of CID, and that CID has the authority to investigate.”

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, expressed shock about Arlington’s chaos. He was distressed to hear about the unknown remains in Grave 449, and about the fact that many personal mementos — letters, photographs and artifacts — placed on graves in Section 60, the final resting place of 600 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, have ended up in the trash. “We expect the Armed Services Committee to look into this and that hearings would be appropriate,” Rieckhoff said. “Our members are outraged. People are very, very concerned. We expect a response from the Army on this.”

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>