WASHINGTON - An Army investigation has found that potentially hundreds of remains at Arlington National Cemetery have been misidentified or misplaced, in a scandal marring the reputation of the nation's pre-eminent burial ground for its honored dead since the Civil War.
Army Secretary John McHugh said Thursrday that the cemetery's two civilian leaders would be forced to step aside, and he appointed a new chief to conduct a more thorough investigation to examine the graves and sort out the mix-up.
"I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones," McHugh said.
Arlington is considered among the nation's most hallowed sites, with more than 300,000 people buried there with military honors. An average of 30 funerals are conducted there every day.
Among those buried at the cemetery are troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two presidents and their spouses, including members of the Kennedy family, have also been buried there. The cemetery, near Washington, D.C., attracts more than 4 million visitors annually.
An Army investigation began last year after reports of employee misconduct, first reported by the website Salon.com.
Led by Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, the investigation found lax management, where employees relied on paper records to manage the dozens of burials each week and maintain the thousands of existing grave sites.
Whitcomb said at least 211 remains were identified as potentially mislabeled or misplaced and that there could be more.
Whitcomb said the problem had been confined to three areas of the cemetery known as sections 59, 65 and 66. He said he found two cases of mismarked graves in section 60, the area for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and those mistakes had been corrected.
Dorothy Nolte, 68, of Burns, Tenn., said she learned last year that the remains of her sister, Air Force Master Sgt. Marion Grabe, who had been buried in March 2008, had been moved to a new grave site.
Nolte said she went to Arlington to find out that her sister's urn had been buried on top of another soldier, but then it was moved to another grave site. She said she had not been informed of the transfer.
"I made them unearth the urn so I could see the name," Nolte said in a phone interview yesterday from New York. "I have peace knowing my sister is indeed in the right place." Family members may call the cemetery at 703-607-8000.