Today’s headlines are screaming: “6,600 graves misplaced, misnamed, or otherwise mixed up, at Arlington National Cemetery. Comments on the internet are full of outrage or downright rage: “How could this happen?” “This is criminal!” “Now, the fallen cannot rest in peace.”
How could this have happened? Quite simply, as the former superintendent (who may or may not have been grossly incompetent) pointed out, this was a process done by hand for over 40 years so there was a great possibility of error. Furthermore, if you read the whole article, you’ll know that most mistakes appeared only on certain maps used exclusively by cemetery employees.
Now, as for the handful of unmarked graves, I suspect that these mistakes can be fixed by tracking the old files and sifting through archives. A little over two hundred unmarked gravestones at a cemetery with over 300,000 graves shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.
As for “the fallen who cannot rest in peace” because the tombstones don’t match the names of the remains underneath them, I can assure you that the fallen do not concern themselves with such matters and the living shouldn’t make such assumptions either, as – to my knowledge – nobody returned from the dead and told the living what one does or doesn’t do or feel once one is dead.
The concern over recovery, preservation, and handling of the corpses borders on obsession in our culture and it is time for us to look at it rationally and to recognize how absurd this really is. Does it make sense, for example, to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to comb the ocean floor for weeks after an airliner goes down? Why invest huge sums in a mahogany casket lined with plush velvet and sheen satin? What purpose does it serve to erect a gaudy mausoleum to someone who won’t be remember for his noble actions but only for the money he was throwing around when alive?
Losing a family member is a sad thing, especially when the demise came violently, prematurely, or unexpectedly. If talking to a piece of white granite sticking from a manicured lawn provides someone with a bit of comfort, by all means, let them. But, does it really matter whether what’s left of the deceased lies precisely six feet under that particular headstone, a few yards to the side, a couple of rows up the hill, or even a few miles away? I think not. Will anyone haunt you for the mistake? Not a chance. Only the living have the luxury to concern themselves with such petty stuff.