When government fails – gravestone lost
Living in the Washington DC metro, I have been following a story that began about the top two heads of Arlington National Cemetery resigning or being fired after more than 20 years on the job because 1) they lost bodies, 2) misidentified buried remains, 3) buried bodies on top of one another, and 4) moved gravestones such that they were lost in a nearby stream. These are obviously not minor infractions, and the numbers of bodies and families affected could easily run into the hundreds. What happened here?
The bureaucratic machine was rumbling down the track. The amount of space in Arlington National Cemetery is limited, so the “gravemaster” bureaucrat who can figure out how to cram more into the space will become a hero if he can. He figured out how to do it, but there was little oversight in seeing how this was accomplished. Holes were dug, things got moved, and the record keeping fell behind because it is an old manual system. The gravemaster turned hero was not up to speed in modern technology so his old system was eating him alive.
So, now, he and his colleague fought about the mess as they both decided to depart. Behind is a real mess that is overseen by a military general. Eventually, they may set the current practice on an acceptable course, though they may or may not recover from past mistakes.
Does this story translate or transfer to other acts of government performance? You bet.
Every department in government is faced with doing the peoples’ essential business under constraints. Everyone wants to do the job to the best of their ability. However, sometimes the demand puts bureaucrats under siege, and without adequate oversight, the train comes off the track…sort of like the DC Metrorail…it has been happening there too.
“Photo of veteran's tombstone in Arlington Cemetery creek startles son
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010
It was around lunchtime Thursday when Mike McLaughlin settled into a chair in his family room and opened the newspaper. There, on the front page, was a photograph of a burial marker lying in a stream at Arlington National Cemetery and an article that led to a sudden realization.
This is my father's tombstone," he called out to his wife.
Then he became, as he said, "unglued." How could his father -- who dropped out of college to serve in World War I, rejoined the Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor at the age of 44 and then served again during the Korean War -- be so dishonored?
Upset, he called the cemetery, which had been trying to figure out whom the headstone belonged to after The Washington Post alerted officials there Wednesday morning that several mud-caked markers were lining a stream at one of the country's most venerated burial grounds.
A few hours later, a top Arlington official called McLaughlin back to apologize for his father's tombstone being discarded in such a way and assure him that it will be disposed of properly.
In an interview from his home in the Shenandoah Valley, McLaughlin, a 74-year-old Arlington County native, said he was "appalled."
"You can't harm Dad, and you can't harm Mom," he said, his voice cracking. "But the way this was handled is going to affect service personnel who are dying right now and in years to come. They deserve some honor and respect."”