Grave New Revelations at Arlington

By Nancy Norman
|  Thursday, Jun 24, 2010  |  Updated 12:31 AM EDT
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Grave New Revelations at Arlington

NBC News

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Arlington National Cemetery officials knew for more than a decade that gravestones lined the banks of a stream on the grounds, the Washington Post reported, but nothing was done to rectify the situation.

They apparently did not comprehend that to the outside world this is sacrilege.

Cemetery officials didn’t have an answer as to why headstones were used as construction materials in the stream or why they weren’t replaced with stones or other materials normally used in stream erosion projects.

The top two leaders of Arlington National Cemetery were kicked out.  That would be Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham. The latter faces disciplinary review and isn’t talking.

The cemetery’s new management found out from the Post about the headstones in the stream.  Officials said they would get them out as soon as possible and dispose of them in compliance with a 1994 policy that mandates the stones be crushed and recycled.  The issue was brought to light in 1997 and last year, but nothing was done either time.

Dave Foster, an Army spokesman, said that once the headstones were discovered in the stream bed, officials left them there because they were afraid if they moved them the stream would be damaged.

Headstones are replaced in the cemetery when they are damaged. New headstones are changed in to update burial markers when relatives who die are interred adjacent. Those are possible explanations of where some of the headstone in the stream originated.

This is just the latest in what has become a rolling investigation that keeps picking up more ugly details. The bureaucratic side of the Arlington Cemetery culture seems dysfunctional. An Army investigation found that more than 200 graves were mislabeled and at least four urns were dumped in a pile of dirt. In some cases, bodies reportedly were buried in the wrong graves. And there was the uncomfortable revelation that National Funeral Home in Falls Church, Va., improperly stored bodies awaiting burial at Arlington in a hallway and garage.

Relatives and friends of those who served their country and are interred at Arlington thought a respectful culture existed in the final resting place of more than 300,000 service members. At the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier and perhaps most areas of the 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps it has been better. Maybe now something will be done with these headstones to respect the veterans who were interred underneath.

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