Arlington National Cemetery cannot keep bodies sorted

A solider playing "Taps" at Arlington National Cemetery during winter. There's scandal at Arlington National, where graves are apparently mislabeled and at least one grave was doubled up with bodies.

Arlington National Cemetery in winter. (Photo: Flickr)

Running a cemetery is a more difficult business than many people assume, particularly a cemetery of the size and prestige of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Unfortunately, Arlington National Superintendent John Metzler and his deputy Thurman Higginbotham are being replaced after a series of scandalous mixups involving mislabeled graves and at least one service member’s body being buried on top of another, the Pentagon told MSNBC. In addition, Higginbotham is being investigated for allegedly hacking computer files of a former Arlington National Cemetery employee.

Arlington National Cemetery didn’t have a body database?

Metzler and Higginbotham were criticized heavily for not having an electronic database of the gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery and instead relying upon paper records. This weighed heavily on Secretary of the Army John McHugh’s mind as he made the move to dismiss the duo. A new position will be created to oversee Arlington National operations.

John Metzler, 62, has been a government employee for 42 years. He served as Arlington National Cemetery superintendent for 19 years. His father John Sr. preceded him as Arlington National Cemetery superintendent.

‘Does anyone run a perfect organization?’ asked Metzler

John Metzler admitted mistakes, but he clarified to the media that they were not malicious. While military rank and salary are not easy to come by, some reasonable supposition would indicate that John Metzler, with more than 18 years of service in the military, would make at least $3,454 per month according to the standard military pay table (if he is the equivalent of at least O-1, first-level officer rank). More than likely, he makes at least $2,000 to $3,000 more per month as the equivalent of a higher officer rank, although this is speculation.

Was John C. Metzler Jr. earning his pay?

Whatever the case, from John McHugh’s point of view, Metzler had failed to earn his salary, in light of the shocking events. Not only that, but John Metzler saying that “nobody’s perfect” and telling the media that some of the problems occurred before he began his job at Arlington National Cemetery are errors that are simply inexcusable in such a high-profile position funded by taxpayers. That doesn’t even take into account his responsibility in tending to the honored military dead.

Is Arlington National Cemetery running out of room?

Could that be the reason for the sorting and burial anomalies? According to its website, Arlington National has more than 300,000 buried over its 200 acres. That doesn’t take into account the special vaults that carry more than 40,000 total niches for cremated remains (soon will be expanded to 100,000). As Arlington National averages 28 funerals per day, 6,900 per year, it’s very likely that space will become an issue. Burr Oak Cemetery, a privately owned cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, had this problem, and some employees resorted to less-than-respectful means of dealing with the situation. Here’s hoping that Arlington National Cemetery will fix any administrative problems and continue to serve America in the honorable fashion it has since its official designation on June 15, 1864, by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.


Arlington National Cemetery

Military pay chart

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