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Military cemeteries across US missing headstones and incorrectly marked, inspections find

Arlington National Cemetery (U.S. Army/Released)
May 30, 2019

A 53-page report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General has revealed that a number of military cemeteries have significant errors.

After inspecting some 4,141 graves at 16 military cemeteries, there were 108 errors found, including missing headstones, incorrect birth and death dates, and improper placement of grave markers, reported.

In total, 16 military cemeteries made up the inspection, 11 ran by the Army, two by the Navy and three by the Air Force.

Throughout the inspections at the cemeteries, the report indicated that at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base Cemetery in Wyoming and at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md., grave markers were absent.

The Army’s Fort Lawton Cemetery in Washington had a gravestone labeled for a Spanish-American War veteran, a war that took place in 1898, but the birth date on the stone as April 1907, the report indicated.

At the Naval Station Great Lakes cemetery in Illinois, “records showed that a veteran’s spouse and daughter were buried in the same grave-site between 1965 and 1968, but only the veteran’s information was reflected,” stated.

According to the final report findings, those responsible for managing the cemeteries, “in some instances did not ensure proper placement of grave site markers or verify that information on the markers corresponded to burial records, update their cemetery system of record after each burial, or verify that grave site locations were correct in their system of record,” said.

The report noted that without accountability for the cemeteries, these errors could prevent family members or others from finding a specific grave.

Inspectors concluded that the errors resulted from an inclusive department-wide policy to regulate military cemetery operation and management.

The discrepancies highlighted in the report suggest “regulations and guidelines governing cemetery administration, operations, maintenance, and inspections were inconsistent across the services.”

The Defense Department’s Inspector General recommended to the DoD, “standardizing training for cemetery officials, establishing business rules for adjudicating data discrepancies, and completing an accountability census of all cemeteries and the digitization of all records,” the report stated and reported.

The report recommended the Pentagon follow a clear set of rules for all 36 of the military cemeteries to ensure that records are better kept to eliminate the large number of errors.

The 36 military cemeteries include 26 managed by the Army, plus two national cemeteries at Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. The latter were not included in the inspection or the report. The Navy and Air Force both manage five cemeteries each.