The recent mismanagement/misidentification charges against the managers of Arlington Cemetery have sparked national interest, concern, and commentary. Both United States Army officials admitted to the misidentification of over 200 remains of soldiers, some being from Iraq and Afghanistan, reported Salon.com. The two were forced out of their positions. Families are concerned that their loved ones are potentially mislabeled, unlabeled, or buried in a completely different location than they have known. This is extremely pertinent in a society that is currently at war, when death and respect for the dead affect many Army families in the U.S.
The problems of identification in war certainly were much greater, and more accepted, the further back in history you go. My great-grandfather, who served in both of the Great Wars, is buried in Arlington. I don’t doubt the possibility of his misidentification, as he died in combat and was not at a very high rank when he did. I do know that he was respected as a soldier, and received a good funeral service and is buried at a well-known and highly regarded cemetery. Identification rules were much more relaxed, requiring less material to identify a dead soldier, such as a dog tag, instead of the dog tag, face, body etc. that is used today.
I doubt any foul play in this recent citation, as Arlington has the second-most people buried out of any cemetery in the United States, housing over 300,000 dead. They conduct over 6,900 burials each year, according to the Cemetery’s website.
I do not feel that major charges should be pressed, as officers do conduct extremely respectful burials, doing their best to represent each individual who served their country amidst thousands of others. Negative sentiments toward the individuals in charge are common when anything seems to go wrong, but the misidentification of soldiers cannot be intentional. A review of procedures for identification, transportation of bodies, and burial procedures should take place, but attacking individuals should be left at a minimum. The two officials are in charge of the processes, but there can be mistakes made at any level of the process. They are also a part of the institution that houses and respects these soldiers’ bodies.
Arlington even has a mass grave area specifically for unidentified soldiers. In Section 27, there are buried more than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War. Their headstones do not identify individual names, only “Civilian” or “Citizen”.
Arlington has always been at the top of the list for respectful burial processes, and I think it will remain that way.