Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Choice plots at Arlington reserved for VIPs.
June 29, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

How top officials at Arlington National Cemetery violated Army guidelines -- and may have broken the law.Via. Salon.com Officials at Arlington National Cemetery have been quietly reserving particularly desirable parts of the burial grounds for VIPs. This violates Army regulations and federal law, which bar special burial arrangements for the powerful and well-connected and require that service members be buried in the next available plot at Arlington, regardless of rank or other factors.
posted by Fizz (45 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think this is a good law, but I guess it also did not apply to brothers named "Kennedy?"
posted by entropicamericana at 2:08 PM on June 29, 2010


This isn't surprising though. Money makes the world go around and if you throw it at the right people, shit gets done.
posted by Fizz at 2:10 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in real scandal news, images of dead combatants and returning coffins drapped in flags are still censored in the mainsteam media.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


More evidence that the ideals of democracy and capitalism can be competing and conflicting.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


These people are dead. They don't care where they are buried.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


More evidence that the ideals of democracy and capitalism can be competing and conflicting.


DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CONFUSE COGNITIVE-DISSONANCE AMERICAN-BOT.
INPUT REJECTED.

posted by joe lisboa at 2:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Politicians say "More taxes will solve everything"

What are you talking about? That taxes must always go down and that cutting taxes is the only moral or rational action is political dogma, at least in the USA. Only a tiny fringe of politicians disagree.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


These people are dead. They don't care where they are buried.
But what about their family. Think of the insult...knowing that their grandfather's plot lacks proper shade or an ocean view.
posted by Fizz at 2:27 PM on June 29, 2010


Yeah, you can't really see the ocean from anywhere Arlington.
posted by fixedgear at 2:29 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


The idea that there's such a good thing as a "good" burial space and a "bad" burial space is one of the crappiest parts of my job. I always stop myself just short of sighing and saying, "Does it really matter?" But the truth is: yes. It matters to the family. Consumer choice is always a good thing.

Having said that, this shouldn't happen in a military cemetery. Especially not Arlington.
posted by ColdChef at 2:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I won't do the "this is my shocked face" bit, but ... I wouldn't have even expected anything different. It would never occur to me that preferential plot designations would not be in place.
posted by adipocere at 2:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The entire site, a total of 3.2 acres, was set aside by the secretary of the Army, with the approval of the secretary of defense, to honor the memory of the president. The land has been retained for the nation as a whole and has not been deeded to the Kennedy family. The steep hillside has never been considered suitable for graves or a general burial location.
posted by raysmj at 2:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, well, I'm disgusted, at least.
posted by kenko at 2:31 PM on June 29, 2010


Add nepotism to the list of complaints.
posted by ColdChef at 2:35 PM on June 29, 2010


It would never occur to me that preferential plot designations would not be in place.

Me too. I like the sound of the policy as it is evidently written but if you'd asked me an hour ago I would've assumed that Arlington was separated by rank or something. I mean you've got enlisted vs. officer's everything else.

Note that the sum of my military knowledge pretty much amounts to I have seen every episode of M*A*S*H a few dozen times.
posted by Babblesort at 2:36 PM on June 29, 2010


I don't understand the uninterested reactions. Burial location may not matter to you, but it does to some people. The families of regular service members are being denied something important to them in violation of federal law in favor of the rich and powerful and Metafilter gives a collective meh?
posted by ND¢ at 2:40 PM on June 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


These people are dead. They don't care where they are buried.

People who are looking at the real possibility of being buried there might.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:41 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Arlington National Cemetery has always been one of my favorite cemeteries. It's the burial place of the space shuttle Challenger astronauts and the space shuttle Columbia astronauts as well as many other heroic figures. When my troop visited Arlington on the way to the 1989 National Scout Jamboree, I won an essay contest and got to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. How proud I was to be chosen.
posted by ColdChef at 2:43 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the uninterested reactions. Burial location may not matter to you, but it does to some people. The families of regular service members are being denied something important to them in violation of federal law in favor of the rich and powerful and Metafilter gives a collective meh?

Maybe our collective outrage filter has a lot on its plate these days. This seems very "inside baseball" even for outrage junkies.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:44 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the uninterested reactions. Burial location may not matter to you, but it does to some people. The families of regular service members are being denied something important to them in violation of federal law in favor of the rich and powerful and Metafilter gives a collective meh?
Sadly, this is just par for the course. Is anyone really surprised that the system is being abused to help the privaledged? I mean honestly.
posted by Fizz at 2:50 PM on June 29, 2010


It should be pointed out, for those unfamiliar, that this is all part of a greater scandal at Arlington, where it was discovered that they basically had no fucking clue what was going on, who was buried where, etc. They managed to piss away about $5M to various contractors, apparently without actually getting anything done. (This is in contrast to the VA, who spent a tenth of that, runs far more cemeteries, and doesn't have nearly as much of a problem.) The problem wasn't contractors per se, because the VA contracted out their management system as well, but the Army let themselves get sold a bill of goods over and over again.

I suspect there's more to come; organizations that badly mismanaged rarely have just a few problems; it looks like it's a systemic cultural issue and probably permeates the whole place. I think there are going to be a lot of people wondering where Dad or Granddad are actually buried who are going to have to wait until a lot of questions are answered to find out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Me too. I like the sound of the policy as it is evidently written but if you'd asked me an hour ago I would've assumed that Arlington was separated by rank or something. I mean you've got enlisted vs. officer's everything else.

You forget that the iniquity of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,
Now dansand mirry, now like to die:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world's vanitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Unto the Death gois all Estatis,
Princis, Prelatis, and Potestatis,
Baith rich and poor of all degree:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knichtis in to the field
Enarmit under helm and scheild;
Victor he is at all mellie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

And, you know, so on and so forth.
posted by kenko at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't find it inside baseball to discover that the resting place for our war dead isn't based on accomplishment, or heroism, or just assigned randomly, since all soldiers deserve to be honored equally in death, but is instead based on who has the most money.

That seems a pretty basic betrayal to me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


We're the government of, by, and for the people, not the money. Instead of being all cynical and world-weary about it, let's light a fire under some people and get this fixed.
posted by Malor at 2:55 PM on June 29, 2010


And in other recent Arlington news...
On Thursday, Army officials announced the findings of an investigation into Arlington that found remains buried in graves listed as empty, unmarked graves and improperly handled cremated remains. The report noted problems with at least 211 graves.

“There could in fact be more,” said Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, Army Inspector General.

The inspection found that 117 grave sites marked as occupied on maps did not have headstones.An additional 94 grave sites were supposedly unoccupied, but each had a headstone. And some grave sites were not on maps at all.

Retiring Arlington Superintendent John Metzler “acknowledged that map inaccuracies were a systemic problem, but evidence indicated he failed to adequately inquire into these discrepancies to ensure they were properly resolved,” the report said.

The report also said at least four urns were discovered in a pile of dirt used to fill graves. One was re-buried as an “unknown” because it had no markings on it.
And there's this too:
On Wednesday, after The Washington Post alerted the cemetery to their presence, officials there said they were shocked to find the gravestones lying in the muck near a maintenance yard. Already under fire in recent days for more than 200 unmarked or misidentified graves and a chaotic and dysfunctional management system, cemetery officials vowed to investigate the headstones along the stream and take “immediate corrective action,” said Kaitlin Horst, a cemetery spokeswoman.

Officials said they do not know how the stones got there, whom they belong to, or how old they are. Horst could say only that “they appear to be decades old.”
There's clearly been a wider problem with the way Arlington is run for a while now.
posted by lullaby at 2:59 PM on June 29, 2010


We're the government of, by, and for the people, not the money. Instead of being all cynical and world-weary about it, let's light a fire under some people and get this fixed.
What world are you living in? Have you stepped anywhere near the giant dogpile that is Washington D.C. Sorry boyscout, the world works in two ways: 1. Not what you know but who you know. and 2. How much you have in your pocket.
posted by Fizz at 3:01 PM on June 29, 2010


The whole story (starting here) is a much sadder tale than just "OMG! Preferential spots for sale!" It reeks of corruption, contractor funny business, privacy violations, finding unmarked graves with unknown remains inside, and more.

Fascinating read, and I'm one of those people who echoes the I'm dead, so I don't care sentiment.
posted by supercres at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2010


Not on preview, what lullaby said.
posted by supercres at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2010


We buried my grandfather in Arlington last year, My sister is part of the Navy guard who attend the funerals, and she pointed out that the location he was being interred is, to her eye, one of the prettier parts.

I guess we got lucky.
posted by quin at 3:21 PM on June 29, 2010


How much land does a man need?
Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:25 PM on June 29, 2010


The "OMG" headstones in creek turned out to be misspelling and other mistakes, and they should have been destroyed (i.e. broken into small pieces) but they weren't. This is not to excuse any thing that went very wrong there.
posted by fixedgear at 3:29 PM on June 29, 2010


In other news the failed American experiment is doing quite well in creating a new corporate sponsored feudalism.
posted by Max Power at 3:42 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really confused about why we have an entire Federal agency called the National Cemetery Administration, which is by all accounts reasonably competent, and yet it is not in charge of Arlington.
posted by miyabo at 4:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - I'm not sure if that was a jokey threat ot a real threat but can we not do that here, please? thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:35 PM on June 29, 2010


I hereby threaten to hug you all. This is a jokey-real threat. No fooling.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:48 PM on June 29, 2010


Only a tiny fringe of politicians disagree.

Whoa whoa whoa. Who are these politicians that disagree that Taxes Must Always Go Down? And are they ever on any (real) ballots?
posted by DU at 5:08 PM on June 29, 2010


I'm really confused about why we have an entire Federal agency called the National Cemetery Administration, which is by all accounts reasonably competent, and yet it is not in charge of Arlington.

I had no idea that such an organization even existed - after reading up on it, I'm also surprised that the National Cemetary Administration isn't in charge of Arlington. From examination, the organization appears to coordinate information from a variety of other organizations and sites throughout the country, giving the appearance of sole-source management.

I find it rather interesting that the organization has a search feature that includes Arlington, as well as many other cemetaries. (It's fast, too - easily located the grave of my recently deceased father-in-law.)
posted by FormlessOne at 5:18 PM on June 29, 2010


Kadin2048 the Army let themselves get sold a bill of goods over and over again.

This is what it's all about. It seems to me that for private businesses, big and small, the US Army is the biggest golden goose ever. If you as a contractor can get a US Army contract, for whatever it is you do or produce, you are set for life unless you so egregiously stuff it up that even the Army notices (they don't seem to notice or care much about soldier deaths, and not at all about soldier conditions and comfort), or one of your competitors manages by some means to get the contract instead of you. You can charge whatever you like for whatever you like. There's a good chance that no-one will care or even notice if you don't provide the services and goods to the quoted standard, in the quoted quantity.

This isn't a US-only problem, although it's worst there among the populist democracies, because the USA spends by far the most money on its armed forces and it is in the USA that privatization has had its strongest effects. There are votes in funding the armed forces, there are votes in "job creation" from the parasitic private industries siphoning off those funds, and there is huge amounts of lobbyist money going directly back to the politicians from the industries that benefit, and more generally, money going into propaganda that keeps the people voting for funding the armed forces and its many parasite industries.

I think that's the actual reason why the USA spends so much money on "defense". It's siphoned straight out of the DoD into private pockets, through excessive price markup, overbuying, and locked-in contracts.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:47 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Officials at Arlington National Cemetery have been quietly reserving particularly desirable parts of the burial grounds for VIPs.

This really isn't anything new. I like the symbolism of Arlington's iconic uniform white headstones because everyone's the same in death, but on my last visit there about 10-15 years ago I noticed that the higher-ranking dead had more elaborate tombstones at higher elevations.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:47 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in real scandal news, images of dead combatants and returning coffins drapped in flags are still censored in the mainsteam media.

I understand both sides of this issue. If you are anti-war, the idea that the costs of the war are being somehow hidden is appalling. But if a close relative were KIA, it would absolutely kill me, sucker-punch-to-the-balls-style, to see a photo of that person's casket printed in a newspaper or on television. Ultimately, I have to side with the ban on this one. Their right to sell newspapers and tv newstime doesn't trump a family's right to dignified treatment in the disposition of their loved one's remains.

This really isn't anything new. I like the symbolism of Arlington's iconic uniform white headstones because everyone's the same in death, but on my last visit there about 10-15 years ago I noticed that the higher-ranking dead had more elaborate tombstones at higher elevations.

I suppose I don't mind that if it was a politically high ranking person, like a president or Supreme Court justice, as well as a veteran, to have a larger memorial. But NOT in the middle of the field of standard headstones. I agree- disrupting the beautiful and gut-wrenching sight of the standard headstones would be some kind of crime. I'll even be charitable and say that having a "good" location for certain popular deceased veterans might be a practical move. If a family member happened to be buried next to someone like that, I'm not sure I'd appreciate a bunch of tourists tramping all over granddad to see Sen. Fuffenstuff's grave.

My grandfather was buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois (where the President gave this years Memorial Day address). This is a relatively new cemetery, dedicated in 1999, and my grandfather died in 2004. I was awestruck by the sheer size of the place, and how many veterans were already buried there. Grove upon grove of those iconic gravestones, surrounded by many columbariums. (Fancy shelving units for cremated remains.) My grandfather was proud to serve in WWII, and I remember that he was particularly proud to be able to be buried among his brethren, and he morbidly enjoyed calling the VA and getting it all set up. It gave him something important to do in his dwindling years. And the folks at the site (as I'm sure at all the other sites) do a hell of a job giving honorable and dignified services to the vets.
posted by gjc at 4:59 AM on June 30, 2010


Duh, I forgot my other point. Running a cemetery is not easy. I'm willing to cut them some slack.

I live just around the corner from this place, which was in the news last summer. THAT is a truly monumental cemetery fuck up.
posted by gjc at 5:04 AM on June 30, 2010


This is indeed a sad betrayal. Unfortunately it's not at all surprising given the plutocracy that America has become.

I had a great-uncle who served in WWI, was gassed while in the balloon corps and suffered PTSD for the rest of his life. A few decades back the cemetery he was in was summarily dug up, the occupants moved into an anonymous hole many miles away, and the former site used to build apartments and a shopping mall. We were told that the land was needed for the use of the living. Also, I'm guessing the cemetery had run out of space and was no longer earning enough to pay its taxes or something similar. We were too shocked and sickened to find out.

Hard to get worked up over the Arlington travesty after experiencing that. My capacity for outrage is rapidly running out.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:51 AM on June 30, 2010


But if a close relative were KIA, it would absolutely kill me, sucker-punch-to-the-balls-style, to see a photo of that person's casket printed in a newspaper or on television. Ultimately, I have to side with the ban on this one. Their right to sell newspapers and tv newstime doesn't trump a family's right to dignified treatment in the disposition of their loved one's remains.

But your loved one's casket is essentially going to look like every other casket in that picture or in any other picture anyone has seen. And if I'm recalling correctly, one of the conditions of overturning the ban last year was that families have to agree to allow a photo to be released. So just because you might have a problem with it doesn't mean everyone would, and a media ban doesn't allow anyone else the option.

Personally? I told my brother that I'd want any photos released. Ultimately I'd be dead so it wouldn't matter to me anymore, and my family's feelings would be more important, but I fully support showing pictures of as many flag-draped coffins to as many people as possible in this country. A constant reminder that part of what we are doing over there includes lots of people coming back like this.
posted by lullaby at 6:18 AM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in real scandal news, images of dead combatants and returning coffins drapped in flags are still censored in the mainsteam media.

The Obama administration lifted the ban on coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war fatalities arriving at Dover Air Force Base in February 2009. The coffins can be photographed with the families' consent.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:09 AM on June 30, 2010


How Arlington National Cemetery Came to Be. Arlington House belonged to Mary Custis Lee, who was Robert E. Lee's wife. He lived there when he was offered commanded of the Union Army when Virginia seceded. Union troops seized the estate soon after. Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs began burying Union dead in Mrs. Lee's rose garden just outside the main building. (I'm more of a "malice towards none, charity towards all" guy myself.) Private William Christman was the first soldier buried at Arlington; like many Civil War fatalities, he died of disease. There was also a freedman's village on the estate's grounds.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:35 AM on June 30, 2010


« Older The Karzai government is crumbling before our eyes...  |  How do you survey a billion pe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments