Nearly 65,000 headstones or niche covers at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery require additional review by the United States Army to check for potential discrepancies and mistakes, according to a recently released report.
The comprehensive study, which took one year to complete, included inspections of “every available record” and “every gravesite on the cemetery’s grounds,” according to John McHugh, secretary of the Army. Each headstone and niche cover at the 147-year-old cemetery was digitally recorded for a single database, but not all the findings could be reconciled with the cemetery’s archives.
More than 250,000 headstones and niche covers were photographed, and 510,000 records were inspected. Only 195,000 of the cases were validated, while 64,230, or 25 percent, require additional review for potential discrepancies and administrative errors.
“Research showed not only that mistakes were made and compounded over time, it also provided a better understanding of how, why and when these mistakes occurred,” according to the study, which McHugh presented to Congress on Thursday, Dec. 22.
Specifically, the research finds that forms intended to document interment services were not applied or completed. “Human error” and “the transition from one system to the next likely led to many of the inconsistencies discovered to date.”
Arlington, which hosts 4.1 million visitors annually, is the only national cemetery that routinely holds graveside services and provides full military honors for eligible veterans. There are approximately 27-30 funeral services every weekday.
One of the challenges of recordkeeping at Arlington is that the cemetery began as a burial ground during the Civil War. Different practices were utilized 14 decades ago and some information has become muddled through the generations, according to the study.
“With the critical support of Congress and the American people, the task force’s significant work has resulted in a far more detailed and thorough understanding of Arlington’s records and living history than at any time since its inception during the Civil War in 1864,” said Kathryn A. Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program. “While remarkable progress has been made this far, additional work is required.”