Arlington Cemetery Grave Mix-Up Involves Thousands of Graves, Lots of Oops


There’s doing your job badly, and then there’s doing your job not even in the slightest. And it seems that when you run a graveyard, especially a nationally important graveyard, one of your primary goals — really, maybe even the most important thing for you to do, besides keeping that dang eternal flame going, would be to get the right bodies matched up with the right gravestones, and put them in the right place. And label them correctly. Alas, easier said than done.

Today it came out that the number of graves affected by mix-ups at Arlington National Cemetery — originally thought to be in the hundreds — may be as many as 6,600.

John Metzler, who ran the cemetery for 19 years until he was forced to retire after investigators found some 211 graves unmarked or wrongly identified last month, said he accepted “full responsibility” for the problems. But he also blamed his staff and lack of resources, including job cuts and having to bury 6,000 people a year, and said that “the system used to track grave sites relied mostly on a complicated paper trail vulnerable to error.” But remember 19 years ago? We were all working with complicated paper trails vulnerable to error back in those days.

People were outraged when they heard the 211 number; now that 6,600 is being tossed around, they are infuriated! It seems that when you go to see your dearly departed at the cemetery, the sort of baseline requirement is that the body you visit actually be theirs, not just any body, and that there should be a label as to that, and you should be able to find the gravesite on a map, assuming maps are to be had.

Metzler said that problems down the years had been quickly remedied and that though maps used by cemetery employees were mislabelled, this did not mean people were necessarily in the wrong graves.

Well, that’s good. We like to know who’s in our graves. Unless we’re purposely visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which may have been where things first started to go wrong for poor Metzler.

[via NPR, The Guardian]