Fixing the National Cemetery System

A recent guest post by Air Force veteran Jay Harden at the Veterans Administration’s VAntage Point blog brought to light some surprising information about our national cemetery system:

There is no coherent, common management of national cemeteries in this country and I, for one, cannot let that stand.

Today, our national cemeteries are managed by the Department of the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense. They naturally do some of the same things differently, and each way (naturally) is best. Such stovepipes are unjustified and absurd to my logical mind.

There is room for significant improvement across the board. For starters, there is no common digital record system (paper record prevail), no common mapping system, no common photo data base, no standardized procedures for interment, maintenance, or military honors as far as I can tell, and no common application of precision GPS for repositioning of remains and headstones in the event of a natural disaster. The Georgia flood of 1995 did not adversely affect Andersonville National Cemetery but other local cemeteries were not so lucky. As a result the State of Georgia now requires remains (not containers) to be uniquely identified in a public registry. There is no national requirement that I know of.

We have all heard of the management issues at Arlington Cemetery. The national cemetery here in St. Augustine has been closed for years and while the grounds are always beautifully maintained, there are still many questions about the graves themselves. Some recent street repairs next to the cemetery found graves outside the cemetery walls. Who are they?

Mr. Harden suggests we learn from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission who maintain the American military cemeteries outside the United States.

All cemeteries are important links to our past. Most of us have looked to our national cemeteries as models for cemetery management. It’s a shock to find this may not be the case.


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