Published: Jun 11, 2010 1:53 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 11, 2010 10:55 AM EDT

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

conference.

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

gravesites.

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

reporters Thursday.

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

systems.

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

again.

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

mistakes.

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

703-607-8000.