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Grave Audit: 400,000 Are Buried At Arlington Cemetery

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WASHINGTON -- Arlington National Cemetery is a lot more full than anyone knew.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, cemetery Executive Director Kathryn Condon estimated that more than 400,000 people are now interred there. That's 20 percent more than previous estimates of about 330,000.

The new estimate comes as a meticulous grave-by-grave review is under way at the cemetery following reports in 2010 of misplaced remains and mismanagement that led the Army to oust the cemetery's top leadership and install Condon to lead an overhaul.

Condon expects to have an exact count later this year. A formal count had never been done before.

Officials have been looking for ways to maximize Arlington's capacity for new burials as available space dwindles.

The gravesite review process currently under way is likely to extend the cemetery's capacity, as the geospatial mapping technology has found scattered plots that were assumed full but actually are vacant.

More than 7,000 people are buried there in a typical year.

Counting the graves and urns at Arlington proved to be a complicated task, made more difficult by the varied methods of recordkeeping dating back over the cemetery's nearly 150-year history.

In many cases, husbands and wives are buried in the same plot, but during the course of the ongoing review workers discovered that for much of the early 20th century, the cemetery did not bother to etch the wife's name into the headstone.

In other cases, partial remains from multiple people who died in the same battle are contained in a single grave, and not all the remains can be positively identified as belonging to a specific service member.

Condon said the gravesite review is expected to be completed this summer, and should yield an exact count of those interred. The cemetery also plans to have an interactive map that will allow people to go to the cemetery's website and search for the names of loved ones, or click on an individual gravesite and see who is buried there.

A status report last month found that thousands of headstones and other markers may need to be replaced or added to accurately account for the dead. While the review has so far uncovered no further evidence of individuals being buried in the wrong place, it has found thousands of discrepancies between the information on headstones and what is in the cemetery's internal records, including misspelled names and discrepancies on dates of birth and death.

Part of the ongoing review is a case-by-case check to see in those instances which is correct, the headstone or the internal paperwork.

At Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and others praised the cemetery's efforts to correct past mismanagement.

"The corrections made ... constitute a sea change from what we saw under the cemetery's prior leadership," she said.

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