More Questions Raised Over Burials at Arlington National CemeterySeptember 15, 2010 - 1:42 PM | by: Steve Centanni
The parents of a fallen Marine positively identified their son’s remains today at Arlington National Cemetery, but nonetheless declared “a trust has been broken” and questioned the credibility of cemetery officials.
Marine Private Heath Warner of Canton, Ohio was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. The family became concerned that he might be buried in the wrong plot after the announcement in June that the Army Inspector General had found widespread mishandling of graves Arlington. Graves were mismarked, or unmarked, and some urns of ashes were found dumped on a pile of dirt. In addition, discarded gravestones were later discovered in a cemetery streambed where they were being used for erosion control.
Scott and Melissa Warner say paperwork provided by the cemetery incorrectly showed their son’s body was sent from a funeral home in Illinois, when in fact it came from Ohio. Scott Warner says the cemetery, administered by the U.S. Army, could not provide any paperwork documenting the chain of custody for the remains. But Army Spokesman Gary Tallman says the cemetery has no responsibility for the remains until they arrive at Arlington.
A disinterment was arranged and it was carried out Wednesday morning. The casket containing Pvt. Heath’s remains was put on a truck and taken to a building in a cemetery service area where it was opened in the presence of the Warners, according to Tallman.
At a news conference afterwards, Scott Warner said he was able to positively identify his son by a tattoo on his right arm. “I’m happy and I feel at peace that it’s my son,” Warner told reporters.
But, he claimed, “the gravesite had been compromised.” Warner said he’d been told the vault would not be opened and the casket would not be lifted until he was there. But when he arrived Wednesday morning, he says these steps had already been taken. According to Tallman, site preparations needed to be done to deal with ground water at the site. Tallman said, “Mr. Warner was fully briefed in advance on what needed to be done to prepare the site and he agreed to it.”
Warner claims cemetery officials “wanted to have some sort of confidence going into today that is wasn’t a repeat of the last disinterment.”
He was referring the first known disinterments at Arlington since the scathing Inspector General’s report came out last Spring.
Three weeks ago, the grave of an Army staff sergeant was opened after his wife heard news of the investigation and became worried her husband was buried in the wrong place. Tallman says that when his grave was opened, someone else’s remains were found there. The staff sergeant was found in a nearby plot under someone else’s headstone.
In fact, Tallman says, as a result of those exhumations, discrepancies were found that involved three different sets of remains. The exact circumstances are unclear and Tallman was unable to provide details because of family privacy concerns.
Warner says he hopes other families will come forward when they have a feeling in their stomach “ that something isn’t right.”
He says, “As far as the administration of the cemetery, there are serious flaws that need to be addressed.”
Among other actions, outlined on his website, Warner wants public tours of the cemetery halted temporarily “until the expanded Congressional investigation is concluded and the outstanding issues are resolved.”
He’s also proposing creation of panel of family members to provide feedback as the Army endeavors to correct all the problems at the cemetery.