Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Enter now the FBI into the Arlington Cemetery Debacle

Arlington Cemetery’s Mishandling of Remains Prompts FBI Criminal Probe
Jerry Markon and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (June 29, 2011)
The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of remains at Arlington National Cemetery in a broad criminal inquiry that is also seeking evidence of possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday

I have no idea who is going to make the documentary film about the rise and fall of Arlington National Cemetery but it is going to be a long and complicated movie. Twists and turns will emerge from nowhere and then suddenly it will turn out that the FBI was investigating the whole situation.

At this point, nothing which emerges from the ongoing and unstoppable Arlington cemetery train wreck surprises me. Nothing. The Washington Post has been singlehandedly leading the charge on this case. Now we have FBI Agents, a federal grand jury handing out subpoenas, and increasingly obvious cases of multi-million dollar fraud.

Here’s the rub: it’s only going to get worse. That’s my guess after following this case since day one.

You can read all the previous Arlington Cemetery posts here.

The Death Reference Desk will of course follow this case until the end.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Arlington National Cemetery Update…Now with Hints of Conspiracy

Warner to Introduce Bill to Revoke Reserved Plots at Arlington
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 30, 2011)

A quick update on Arlington National Cemetery and its ongoing problems. The lead didn’t necessarily get buried in this most recent article from the Washington Post but the entire Arlington debacle just got a lot more interesting.

As The Washington Post reports, a list has surfaced of 84 names, mostly generals and colonels, who have been promised choice spots in the cemetery, despite the ban on such favoritism. This unofficial reservation system seems to contribute to the failure to computerize records, despite millions of dollars spend on such a project, starting in 2002. It’s easier to falsify and deliberately mismanage a paper trail than it is a digital facsimile.

There has already been a Congressional investigation but I won’t be surprised if we see another.


Arlington Cemetery Debacle Gets Worse and Worse

Arlington Cemetery Struggles with Old Reservations
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 21, 2011)
Officials at Arlington National Cemetery — still unable to fully account for who is buried where at the nation’s premier military resting place — are struggling to determine who has reserved plots and whether some of those grave sites are already in use.

Oh poor, sad black-hole-of-problems Arlington National Cemetery. One day, a book about running modern cemeteries will be written and in said book will be a chapter entitled Arlington National Cemetery: A Case Study in Totally Preventable Burial Disasters.

Last week, I posted another Washington Post article on the mass burial of ‘unknown’ urns.

And I now have a prediction: We have not yet reached the bottom of this continuing fall from postmortem grace. It boggles the imagination to imagine what will happen next, but I know that some new terrible development is on the way.

In all fairness, Arlington Cemetery’s new executive director, Kathryn Condon, is doing an impressive job of dealing with the multiple problems she inherited from the previous overseers. You can read about all of the problems confronting Arlington Cemetery here.

The newest problem confronting Arlington, as reported in the Post article linked above, is they don’t have accurate records for who holds a gravesite reservation and where, and whether that grave is already occupied.

At some point, it would be good to compile an entire list of everything that has gone wrong at Arlington…I’ll plan on this for the future.

Coincidentally, Meg posted information yesterday on some proposed legislation working its way through the United States Congress. The Bereaved Consumer’s Bill of Rights Act of 2011 was written to deal with the kinds of problems afflicting Arlington Cemetery. Sadly, this Bill would not encompass Veterans Affairs cemeteries, such as Arlington, so it’s up to the Federal Government to make the fixes.

This story will continue.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Arlington Cemetery Re-Buries the ‘Unknown’ Dead

For First Time in Decades, Arlington National Cemetery Must Bury Multiple ‘Unknowns’
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 06, 2011)
When the remains of a Vietnam War soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery were identified in 1998 using DNA, Pentagon officials proudly said that the days of interring service members as “Unknown” could well be over.

It is difficult to imagine the situation at Arlington National Cemetery getting any worse. But the bad news just keeps coming and coming. Hats off to the Washington Post, whose reporters have been rigorously following this case.

The newest revelation is that eight sets of unidentified, cremated human remains were chucked into a single gravesite because of human negligence.

When Arlington Cemetery’s problems first came to light, I remember referring to the entire situation as a ‘Code Red’ alarm for any cemetery.

I’m not sure that even Code Red is an adequate description anymore.

One day, a final tally of all the mishandled burials might be known. But I’m not counting on it.

To read more about the Arlington National Cemetery debacle, click here.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

Year End Look at Arlington Cemetery’s Future

Restoring Arlington Cemetery
Washington Post Editorial Board (December 27, 2010)
What does it mean to restore accountability in the nation’s cemetery?

This is a good, succinct Washington Post Editorial on everything that’s gone wrong at Arlington Cemetery. This last year has been particularly bad for Arlington Cemetery and you can read Death Ref’s coverage of those problems here.

The Washington Post Editorial Board also mentions the fixes being implemented to help remedy the problems. One key improvement will be the the use of a computerized tracking system for all the graves. It is hard to believe, given Arlington Cemetery’s national significance, but before now all the graves were kept track of on pieces of paper.


That system didn’t work particularly well. In early December, for example, the Washington Post ran a story on 8 sets of cremated remains found buried in the same, single gravesite. What was most interesting about that specific case was that the US Military brought in an Army Anthropologist (who usually works on gravesite forensic investigations) to ascertain what happened.

So, on the whole, 2011 will be a tricky year for Arlington Cemetery.

Especially since US Military personnel continue to die overseas, and those individuals deserve what the Department of Defense calls a dignified transfer to the grave.

Cemeteries Monuments + Memorials

And the Problems at Arlington Cemetery Just Keep Growing…

2 Bodies Found in Wrong Plots at Arlington Cemetery
Christian Davenport, Washington Post (September 15, 2010)
Arlington National Cemetery officials discovered that two people were buried in the wrong plots after exhuming their remains last month, an Army official confirmed Tuesday.


More Details Emerge about Bodies Buried in Wrong Arlington Plots
Christian Davenport, Washington Post (September 21, 2010)
The mystery of missing bodies at the nation’s most hallowed military burial ground keeps getting more troubling.

Two more articles on the problems at Arlington National Cemetery recently ran in the Washington Post and the situation is going from bad to worse. Way worse.

These are two interrelated articles, separated by about a week and represent a huge problem for cemetery authorities: bodies in the wrong plots, plots marked with headstones that lack bodies, and multiple sets of remains in single plots.


Early on, when the problems at Arlington Cemetery first emerged, I suggested that mass disinterments might be required. This was partially in jest but I am beginning to think that it could happen. These are Code Red, worst case scenarios for ANY cemetery, let alone Arlington National Cemetery which handles military funerals.

At this point, it is hard to know what Arlington officials can do other than check every single grave. That is a total of 300,000 graves (give or take), with approximately 6,900 new funerals every year. Even if officials cut the total number in half, it’s still 150,000 graves that need checking and that would be a Herculean task.

You can read all of Death Ref’s Arlington Cemetery reports here.

Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Arlington Cemetery Problems Just Keep Coming

At Arlington Cemetery, Years of Problems
Aaron C. Davis and Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post (July 26, 2010)


Arlington Cemetery Problems were Documented in 2005 but Never Fixed
Aaron C. Davis and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (July 28, 2010)


As Many as 6,600 Arlington Graves Mixed Up
Anne Flaherty, Associated Press ( July 29, 2010)


Ex-Cemetery Official Takes Fifth
Christian Davenport and Aaron C. Davis, The Washington Post (July 30, 2010)


Editorial: Arlington’s Broken Trust
The New York Times (August 02, 2010)

The Arlington Cemetery story just keeps going and going. At this point, and based upon the reporting largely by the Washington Post, it looks like Arlington Cemetery is going to require a review of the entire cemetery.

I have no idea how that will work or how much money it will require but it’s going to get complicated.


The issues at Arlington Cemetery have gotten so complex that I have added an Arlington Cemetery tag so that people can directly follow the stories.

Two things happened last week: 1.) The former head of Arlington Cemetery testified before a US Senate Sub-committee and he plead the 5th Amendment on some question. The 5th Amendment. 2.) It’s become clear that no one knows how many graves are mis-labeled, incorrect, or non-existent.

These are not insignificant obstacles.

I’ll keep following the story as it develops.

Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Going Extreme to Fix Arlington Cemetery

At Arlington Cemetery, Army Ready for Drastic Measures
Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post (July 1, 2010)

The situation at Arlington National Cemetery keeps getting more and more complicated. I wrote last week about the mismanagement of Arlington’s burials and you can find that post here: Fixing Arlington Cemetery. To its eternal credit, the Washington Post has doggedly followed the story and the above article ran today.

As it reports, the burial problems at Arlington are so severe that military officials are willing to publicly discuss mass dis-interments and DNA testing. This is the last scenario that I know anyone in the entirety of the United States government wants to happen but Arlington’s problems are probably that bad. My hunch is that the entire scope of what’s wrong is a lot worse than even the cemetery investigators comprehend.

Arlington National Cemetery has over 330,000 graves. The already identified problem areas are a smaller piece of the entire cemetery but if the situation grows and grows then the US Military (particularly the Army which handles the cemetery) will have an unprecedented debacle on its hands.

Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Fixing Arlington Cemetery

In Debt to an Arlington Whistleblower
Dana Milbank, The Washington Post (June, 20 2010)

Over the weekend, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank published a column on the debacle at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. There is a reason that I am interested in Milbank’s column but before I explain why, here’s a brief recap of Arlington’s current problems: 211 unmarked graves, misplaced headstones, and the dumping of human ashes in dirt, along with speculation that there are up to 15,000 instances of such desecrations, all brought to light by whistleblower Gina Gray.

Milbank’s column follows on from over a week’s worth of reporting about all of these problems and more. I’ve listed many of those articles below. The first report to come out was by Mark Benjamin at and you can find it below too.

The point, I think, is this: Dana Milbank and everyone else got information from a person who saw what was going on at Arlington and blew the whistle. Gina Gray, whom Milbank names, worked for a short time at Arlington until disagreements with her superiors caused her to be fired. She also served in the Army and it seems clear that her sense of duty to the dead soldiers overrode any sense of job preservation. She could have kept quiet about the problems that she saw but she didn’t. She contacted reporters until the issue finally made its way to the Inspector General’s office. It’s worth noting, I think, that Mark Benjamin’s reports appeared in Salon on July 16, 2009. Almost a year ago now. I don’t actually see this as a situation where the Inspectors moved too slowly. Instead, it seems as if the situation quickly unwound and became a lot more complicated than initially expected.

Regardless, Arlington National Cemetery will see these problems fixed. That’s not much comfort for families who are not sure whether or not their dead loved one is affected and it never will be.

The problems being reported are a serious situation and they will be studied for some time to come as examples of the worst things that could happen to a cemetery.

A brief compendium of articles:

Christian Davenport, The Washington Post: Arlington headstones found lining stream

Christian Davenport, The Washington Post: More burials will be checked

Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post: Arlington graves sat unmarked

Yeganeh June Torbati, The New York Times: Inquiry Finds Graves Mismarked at Arlington

Mark Benjamin, Grave offenses at Arlington National Cemetery

Mark Benjamin, At Arlington Cemetery, Wrongly Marked Graves, Mismanagement

Burial Cemeteries

Bodies Misidentified at Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC

Army: Bodies Misidentified at Arlington Cemetery
Anne Flaherty and Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press (June 10, 2010)

This is a breaking story which I just got from the Washington Post via the Associated Press. In short, an investigation at the Arlington National Cemetery has revealed that despite strict protocol for US military funerals and burial, the bodies of at least 200 soldiers have been improperly identified or even misplaced. It’s hard to say much more at this point until more details emerge, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this development. Stay tuned!