Inspection Reveals Missing, Inaccurate Headstones at Military Cemeteries

Flags line a row of tombstones in the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., base cemetery May 21, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)
Flags line a row of tombstones in the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., base cemetery May 21, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)

The Pentagon needs to establish on overall set of rules for 36 cemeteries run by the military service branches to avoid mistakes in record-keeping that can result in missing headstones and wrong dates of birth and death, according to a report from the Defense Department's Inspector General.

At the F.E. Warren Air Force Base cemetery in Wyoming, two grave markers were missing. And two more were missing at the United States Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, the report said.

At the Army's Fort Lawton cemetery in the state of Washington, "we observed a marker which stated that the decedent was born in April 1907, but served in the Spanish-American War, which occurred in 1898," the report said.

At the Naval Station Great Lakes cemetery in Illinois, "records showed that a veteran's spouse and daughter were buried in the same gravesite between 1965 and 1968, but only the veteran's information was reflected," IG officials found.

In all, 108 "discrepancies" from among 4,141 gravesites inspected were found, with issues noted at 14 of the 16 military cemeteries visited by IG inspectors.

The discrepancies underlined the main finding of the 53-page report: "regulations and guidelines governing cemetery administration, operations, maintenance, and inspections were inconsistent across the services."

The problem, inspectors determined, was the lack of an overall "DoD-wide policy governing the operation and management of Military Cemeteries."

The service branches manage a total of 36 military cemeteries, the report said. The Army manages 26 military cemeteries as well as the two national cemeteries at Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery, which were addressed in a separate IG report. The Navy and Air Force are responsible for five cemeteries each, the report said.

For the report, IG officials said visits were made to 11 military cemeteries run by the Army, two by the Navy and three by the Air Force.

The report found that officials responsible for the cemeteries "in some instances did not ensure proper placement of gravesite markers or verify that information on the markers corresponded to burial records, update their cemetery system of record after each burial, or verify that gravesite locations were correct in their system of record."

The report also cautioned that "a lack of complete gravesite accountability could prevent family members, or other interested persons, from finding specific gravesites."

The IG's office renewed a recommendation from a previous report that DoD adopt a uniform set of standards for the operations and management of military cemeteries run by the service branches.

DoD "agreed with our recommendations related to standardizing training for cemetery officials, establishing business rules for adjudicating data discrepancies, and completing an accountability census of all cemeteries and the digitization of all records," the report said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

Story Continues