'Downright Angry': House Panel Grills Army Chief on Arlington Cemetery Mistakes

Most of the 211 cases were found in three sections of the cemetery, numbered 59, 65 and 66, which do not see many current burials. Two headstones were also found to have been mismatched in section 60, which is reserved for the fallen from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That error was quickly corrected.

The mistakes may be more extensive -- the errors in the three sections were found only because the military was doing a tree survey in them. The Inspector General's report said "the investigating officers did not review additional burial maps because testimony established that map inaccuracies were a systemic problem."

In releasing the Army's investigative report three weeks ago, McHugh apologized for the bad recordkeeping. "There is simply no excuse and on behalf of the U.S. Army, and on behalf of myself, I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care for their loved ones," he said.

Last November, McHugh had asked the Army's Inspector General to review the management at Arlington, building on a series of articles by Salon.com in 2009 that detailed how mistaken burials may have taken place over the years. Salon has since reported on five incidents of misplaced remains.

In May 2003, cemetery workers preparing to bury a Navy captain at what they thought was an empty grave found a set of remains already there. In January 2008, gravediggers interred the urn containing the cremated remains of an Air Force master sergeant atop those of an unrelated staff sergeant. The mistake was not discovered until four months later, when the staff sergeant's widow discovered the master sergeant's headstone above her husband's grave.

According to the Army IG report, 117 gravesites were marked as occupied on cemetery maps, but none of these gravesites had a headstone or a burial card in the paperwork. 94 gravesites were marked as unoccupied, but each had a headstone and a burial card. Some gravesites were not reflected on burial maps.

Army Chief McHugh Pledges Service Will Fix Problems

At a Pentagon briefing three weeks ago, McHugh announced he was replacing cemetery superintendent John Metzler and placing his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, on administrative leave while some of his actions are investigated.

Metzler has been cemetery superintendent for 19 years and had previously announced he would retire in early July. He received a letter of reprimand that effectively replaced him as superintendent, but he will continue to work in a lesser job at the cemetery until his retirement date.

Higginbotham was suspended from his duties as the number-two official at the cemetery. He has worked at Arlington much of his adult life, having started as a security guard at the cemetery. His handling of the effort to create a computer database to update the cemetery's records had come under fire from former staffers.

McHugh said the Army should remain in control of operations at Arlington, rejecting suggestions that control be shifted to the National Cemetery Administration. "These problems were committed under the watch of the Army, and it's the Army's responsibility going forward," McHugh said, "I'm not sure the fairer thing to do is burden others because of the shortcomings of the United States Army."

According to McHugh, an Army call center has received 867 calls from family members concerned about the well-being of their loved ones' graves. 169 of those cases have been resolved.

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