The superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery announced his retirement on Wednesday. But it appears there was more to the end of John Metzler's 19-year career than first thought.
The Army said Thursday that at least 200 remains in the cemetery may have been misidentified or misplaced, casting a shadow over what has been called America's "sacred ground."
Army Secretary John McHugh told a Pentagon press conference that the investigation found 211 graves where there were problems of misidentification or improper record keeping.
McHugh was to announce that he will replace Metzler and his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, after accusations of poor management and an investigation that Higgenbotham had illegally hacked into the computer files of a former Arlington employee, according to NBC News correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
Over the past couple of years, some of the 300,000 graves at Arlington were improperly marked and in some cases bodies were buried in the wrong graves, officials told NBC News.
In 2008, an Air Force master sergeant was buried on top of a staff sergeant already in the grave, but the error wasn't discovered until the widow of the first service member buried there complained to authorities that someone else's headstone had been placed on her husband's grave.
And despite having more than 300,000 graves at the site, the cemetery does not have a computer database to keep track of those buried there. Records are still kept on paper.
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While Metzler already had announced his intention to retire, Department of Defense and Army officials said both he and Higgenbotham are being forced to step down, according to Miklaszewski.
Metzler, 62, has worked for the government for 42 years. His father was also superintendent at the cemetery.
"About a fourth is somewhat factual, and the rest isn't even close," Metzler said. "Nobody here is doing anything malicious. ... Sure, mistakes get made. ... Does anyone run a perfect organization?"
When announcing his retirement, he said the high point of his career was expanding the cemetery for veterans and their families so it could continue to take new burials until 2060.
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