Maybe thousands more missing at Arlington
Today’s news that Arlington National Cemetery may have misidentified or misplaced over 200 remains is actually a year old, and only a fraction of the story.
At least hundreds more graves -- and perhaps thousands -- may turn out to be misidentified or missing, says Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin, who has been investigating records discrepancies at Arlington since early 2009.
“Despite nearly 10 years and countless dollars spent on computerizing its operations,” Benjamin wrote almost a year ago, on July 16, “the cemetery still relies mostly on paper burial records that in some cases do not match the headstones.”
Benjamin cited the cemetery’s 2008 report to Congress admitting there were “numerous examples of discrepancies that exist between burial maps, the physical location of headstones, and the burial records/grave cards.”
But Benjamin’s biggest score -- until Arlington’s managers were finally forced out Thursday -- may have come in April, when he found that one of the cemetery’s most sacred sections, holding the graves of almost 6,000 Civil War veterans, “including African-Americans who served with the U.S. Colored Troops, as well as thousands of freed slaves,” was a mess.
“In Section 27 …hundreds of graves shown as ‘occupied’ on the map are unmarked today. That map, in fact, shows 5,816 occupied graves in Section 27. There are only 5,303 headstones today. (Salon counted.),” he wrote.
That calculates to about 500 remains gone missing -- in one section alone. Arlington holds the remains of 320,000 fallen.
“The system is still broken,” Benjamin said during a brief telephone interview.
The results announced by military officials today -- 211 remains missing or unaccounted for -- should not be trusted, he said, because they were gleaned from a survey of only three sections in the cemetery.
There could be many hundreds, if not thousands, more remains missing or graves misidentified, he said.
“The problem is headstones,” said Benjamin, who has won a clutch of journalistic awards for his military stories in recent years. “Lots of bodies are likely out there, but with the wrong headstone.”
The Army’s idea to scan the remains without digging them up is not likely to settle the matter, either, he said. For complete accuracy, the cemetery would have to unearth each coffin and finger the name tags.
“It’s a nightmare,” Benjamin said.
“There are over 320,000 people buried there. What if only one per cent are found to be misidentified -- in the wrong place, with the wrong headstone, or with no headstone at all? You do the math.”
That would be 3,200 unaccounted for -- 16 times the number in today’s news.
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