Army will investigate Arlington National Cemetery

After a Salon series exposes problems at the cemetery, the Army says it will investigate. But workers have doubts

By Mark Benjamin
Published July 29, 2009 2:25PM (UTC)
main article image
Following Memorial Day this year, mementos left on or near the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery were left out in the elements and then thrown in the dumpster.

On the heels of a series of investigative articles in Salon that exposed significant problems at Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 300,000 soldiers and family members are buried, the Army has launched an internal investigation at the cemetery.

The Army, however, won't divulge the focus of the inquiry, the identities of the investigators or the names of officers who signed off on the probe. The Army also did not say when investigators might complete their work. According to a statement from Dave Foster, a cemetery spokesman, the Army also has no plans to make the results of the investigation public. "In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, no other information is available at this time," he wrote. What is known is that the officer who has ultimate responsibility for the investigation is the father of the spokeswoman who initially, and inaccurately, denied to Salon that the cemetery had any problem with misplaced remains.

The Salon articles exposed tangled burial paperwork at Arlington that has contributed to confusion among the graves. Former and current employees claim that, among other things, the cemetery doesn't know the location of all the remains. Other remains may not match the headstones placed above them. The articles also showed that the cemetery, which is administered by the Army, disposes of photos, letters and other artifacts left on graves in the section set aside for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, even as similar artifacts left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are preserved.

Cemetery officials first told Salon they were not "aware" of any cases where remains and headstones might not match. Salon then produced one example, evidenced by a grave card that reads "CASKET IN GRAVE REMAINS UNKNOWN" filled out after workers unexpectedly came across a casket several years ago as they went to bury somebody else in what was supposed to be an empty grave.

The cemetery then said officials had, in fact, been aware of those specific unknown remains since 2003 -- but officials are not "aware of any other instances" of unknown remains now. The cemetery has struggled for nearly a decade to computerize its records and otherwise improve its record keeping; the records are still not computerized.

The initial statements from Arlington about there being no unknown remains came from a cemetery spokeswoman named Kaitlin Horst. Army officials confirmed today that this new investigation into the cemetery is being conducted by the Army's Military District of Washington, which oversees the cemetery. The commanding general of the Military District of Washington is Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, Kaitlin Horst's father. The other cemetery spokesman, David Foster, said he saw no conflict in a general overseeing an investigation involving incorrect statements from his daughter. "I would have no comment on that," Foster said. "I don't understand the relevance, really."

Cemetery employees, however, told Salon they are well aware of the relationship between father and daughter and expressed deep skepticism about the Army's investigation. They said it would place a chilling effect on their participation. 

Mark Benjamin

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

MORE FROM Mark Benjamin

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Afghanistan Arlington National Cemetery Investigation