It's uncertain who is buried in a number of graves at Arlington National Cemetery because of poor management and record keeping, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
Army Secretary John McHugh is set to release on Thursday the results of an investigation of Arlington that officials say found problems with keeping track of some burials. The cemetery is resting place for about 300,000, including veterans, war casualties, American presidents and dignitaries.
A review of Arlington's antiquated paper filing system has identified 211 cases in which the paper trail fails to account for the whereabouts of remains, reports CBS News National Security correspondent David Martin. Now the Army will have to inspect each of those grave sites using ground penetrating radar.
At a briefing Thursday afternoon given by Army Secretary John McHugh and Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, McHugh said, "This is in my judgment the end of the failures, but it's not the end of the process."
"We found nothing that was intentional, criminal, or intended [in its] sloppiness," said Whitcomb. "But we view this as a zero defect operation. This is the final act for our fallen and their family members."
Two managers at the cemetery could face punishment, two defense officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak before McHugh. John C. Metzler Jr., the cemetery superintendent for the past 19 years, recently announced his retirement.
When asked by a reporter why no one had been fired yet for the problems at the cemetery, McHugh said that the military had a process by which disciplinary action is taken. He said disciplinary actions against those responsible for making errors would be contemplated.
Officials said the problems at Arlington have gone on for years, but they declined to say how long and how many burial sites are involved. They said in some cases a grave marker was not placed soon enough after burial or records were not kept updated, resulting in uncertainty later about the identities of the deceased at some grave sites.
McHugh ordered an investigation by the Army inspector general in November after revelations that cemetery workers inadvertently buried cremated remains at a grave site already in use.
The error was discovered in May 2008, and cemetery officials immediately moved the cremated remains to another site and remarked the original grave, the Pentagon said in November. But there also were questions about whether cemetery officials used proper procedures to correct the mistake, including notifying the next of kin.
"This is the place where valor rests, a place of reverence and respect for all Americans," McHugh said when he ordered the probe. "As the final resting place of our nation's heroes, any questions about the integrity or accountability of its operations should be examined in a manner befitting their service and sacrifice."
The three sections at Arlington identified with problems are sections 55, 59, and 66. Families with concerns about their loved ones may contact TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, for assistance at 800-959-TAPS. Or go to www.taps.org.
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