Arlington Officials Discuss Wikipedia-Like Site

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery officials want to find a better way to share the stories of the fallen servicemembers buried there, and they might be reaching out the public for help.   Cemetery leaders have discussed sponsoring a Wikipedia-type site to allow family members and those connected to the fallen to tell the stories of their loved ones.  Wikipedia is a collaborative and largely anonymously edited Internet encyclopedia to which anyone may contribute.

“We would eventually like to see a way for people to contribute information on [those] buried at Arlington National Cemetery,” spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch said last week at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

One thing appears certain: It would likely have to be a third-party site, but one credible enough that Arlington would be comfortable with an association with it.

Lynch and other cemetery officials talked briefly about the possibility in October, before they rolled out Arlington’s new grave location app during AUSA.

In the two years after the cemetery fell into disgrace when investigations revealed sloppy record-keeping, misidentified remains, and headstones placed at empty graves, Arlington has worked to put that scandal behind it. In doing so, it also left behind its legacy system for operating and maintaining the cemetery -- one largely unchanged in a hundred years -- using typewriters, index cards, and oversized lot-map books.

Now officials have it all online, so every step along the way -- from designating a gravesite to scheduling a burial -- is logged into an electronic calendar and viewable in real time.

For visitors, a new smartphone app shows where the graves of loved ones or buddies may be found, along with directions to get to them. It also lists upcoming events at the cemetery, and enables visitors to browse and identify memorials, monuments and the graves of notable veterans.

There is even an option to submit feedback to the cemetery or comment on a specific burial record. And that’s something officials would like to see developed further.

Just how that would be done is unclear. Right now the cemetery does not have the capabilities to set up a digital archive, and responsibility for what can be included on the site also needs to be figured out. Anything Arlington National Cemetery puts online must be validated by government sources, said Arlington Superintendent Patrick Hallinan.

“But if it’s your own family member, and you wanted to [add] a little bit of history, a little more information --- is there a way to do it where the Army doesn’t have to worry about being on our system?” he mused.

“If we don’t maintain it, if we don’t add to it, [then] we don’t have to validate the information,” he said. “That’s a possibility.”

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