WASHINGTON (AP) - An Army investigation has found that
potentially hundreds of remains at Arlington National Cemetery have
been misidentified or misplaced, in a scandal marring the
reputation of the nation's pre-eminent burial ground for its
honored dead since the Civil War.
Army Secretary John McHugh announced Thursday that the
cemetery's two civilian leaders would be forced to step aside, and
he appointed a new chief to conduct a more thorough investigation
to examine the graves and sort out the mix-up.
"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," McHugh told a Pentagon news
Arlington National Cemetery is considered among the nation's
most hallowed burial sites, with more than 300,000 people buried
there with military honors. An average of 30 funerals are conducted
there every day.
Among those buried at the cemetery are troops killed in Iraq and
Afghanistan, as well service members from past conflicts dating
back to the Civil War.
Famous presidents and their spouses, including members of the
Kennedy family, also have been buried there. The cemetery, located
across the Potomac River from Washington in northern Virginia,
attracts more than 4 million visitors annually.
An Army investigation was launched last year after reports of
employee misconduct, first reported by the Web site Salon.com.
Led by the service's inspector general, Lt. Gen. Steven
Whitcomb, the investigation found lax management of the cemetery,
where employees relied on paper records to manage the dozens of
burials each week and maintain the thousands of existing
Whitcomb said at least 211 remains were identified as
potentially mislabeled or misplaced and that there could be more.
"We found nothing that was intentional, criminal intent or
intended sloppiness that caused this. ... But of all the things in
the world, we see this as a zero defect operation," he told
Whitcomb could not say how old the mixed-up remains might be or
from what conflict, saying only that the problem had been confined
to three areas of the cemetery known as sections 59, 65 and 66.
Whitcomb said he did find two cases of mis-marked graves in
section 60, the area for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. He
said those mistakes had been corrected.
Dorothy Nolte, 68, of Burns, Tenn., said she learned last year
that the remains of her sister, Air Force Master Sgt. Marion Grabe,
who had been buried at Arlington in March 2008, had been moved to a
new grave site. Nolte said she went to Arlington to find out that
her sister's urn had been buried on top of another soldier, but
then it was disinterred and moved to another grave site. She said
she had not been informed of the transfer.
"I made them unearth the urn so I could see the name," Nolte
said in a phone interview Thursday from New York. "I have peace
knowing my sister is indeed in the right place."
As for the Army investigation, "I think that it's a good thing
that the truth is coming out, and it's certainly a situation that
needs to be rectified," she said.
Separately, the Army is investigating whether the cemetery's
deputy superintendent, Thurman Higginbotham, made false statements
to service investigators. Higginbotham, who ran the day-to-day
operations at the cemetery, has been accused by former employees of
creating a hostile work environment and breaking into their e-mail
Higginbotham is on administrative leave, pending further review.
According to a defense official familiar with the case, who
discussed the details on condition of anonymity, Higginbotham won't
face criminal charges because of a lack of evidence. But, the
official said, the Army will ensure he never works at the cemetery
The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the case
because it is ongoing.
Higgenbotham's boss, John Metzler, is set to retire on July 2.
Service officials say he is being pushed out with a letter of
reprimand that blames him for failing to rein in Higginbotham's
Taking their place will be Kathryn Condon, a former civilian
head of Army Materiel Command who as executive director will in
charge of fixing any burial errors. Patrick Hallinan, a director
with the Veterans Affairs Department, is temporarily being assigned
as the cemetery's superintendent.
McHugh also announced the creation of an independent advisory
commission that will be led by former senators and Army veterans
Max Cleland and Bob Dole.
Family members with questions are urged to call the cemetery at