Reporting from Washington — The Army has misidentified the graves of some of the war dead buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and in least one case buried the body of one service member on top of another, Defense officials disclosed Thursday.
Army Secretary John McHugh has ousted the cemetery's superintendent and his deputy in the wake of a Pentagon inspector general's report highlighting the mismanagement, poor record keeping and other problems at the cemetery, one of the government's most venerated memorials.
It was not clear whether the Army has been able to correct the problems at the cemetery, or if there continue to be a number of graves that remain mismarked.
The report divulging the irregularities sent Pentagon officials scrambling on Thursday. Military officials regard the dignified treatment of personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as one of their top priorities.
Although it is not known exactly how many graves were mismarked or the extent of the record keeping problems, Defense officials were deeply embarrassed by the mistakes.
Problems first came to light in 2008 when the widow of a fallen staff sergeant complained that the wrong headstone had been placed on her husband's grave. An investigation found that an Air Force master sergeant had been buried in the same spot, on top of the other service member.
The Army was planning to release the inspector general's report at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, and McHugh is scheduled to hold a news conference to discuss the findings.
John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, announced last month that he intended to retire on July 2. But Defense officials said Metzler and his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, have been forced out. Both may face punitive action, according to Defense officials.
In an interview with the Marine Corps Times, Metzler acknowledged some problems, but defended his work.
"Nobody here is doing anything malicious," Metzler said. "Sure mistakes get made … does anyone run a perfect organization?"
I am appalled. I mean, I know that there are a lot of graves and that it is not a very easy job making sure that everything is done correctly, but that does not make it okay AT ALL. I mean, I can't even imagine going to visit the grave of a loved one who died and discovering that they had been buried in the wrong spot let alone ON TOP OF ANOTHER BODY!