Arlington Goes Digital With Smartphone App

Two years after the country’s most famous national cemetery was slammed as a national disgrace over bad record-keeping, misidentified remains and headstones placed at empty graves, Arlington National Cemetery has digitized all its burial records and made them available to the public via a smartphone app.

Cemetery visitors may now find a grave by including information about a buried individual or simply clicking a location on the screen map. A few more clicks will display photos of the front and back of headstones and monuments, plot out a path to the destination grave and indicate how long it will take to walk to it.

“The problems of the past are now resolved. We’re moving forward,” Arlington spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch said on Monday.

Several Arlington officials attended a press conference Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference in Washington to announce the new app.

Kathryn Condon, executive director for the Army National Cemeteries Program, held up a standard index card, and noted that just two years ago it was the method used to track burials at the cemetery. Next to her Arlington Superintendent Patrick Hallinan held up an oversized and bulky ledger – one of several map books officials used to assign grave sites and track burials.

But that was then.

“They [the cards and map books] are all being archived,” Condon said. “We no longer have paper records at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Instead, officials assign burial sites in much the same way individuals may now select a seat on a plane when booking a flight, according to Maj. Nicholas R. Miller, chief information officer at Arlington. Miller said that once the data is included it is readily visible to everyone with cemetery responsibility, including maintenance. That means each time someone accesses the map they will see, in real time, where burial spots have been assigned, as well as where burials or memorial events are to take place that day, he said.

The maps viewable to visitors, including those visiting online only, will show current and future cemetery events and note select points of interest, he said. These points include some of the more famous burial sites, monuments, buildings and memorials, including memorial trees donated by military and veterans’ organizations.

“Nothing will replace the experience of walking in the cemetery, but if you’re not afforded that opportunity, technology can enhance that [online] visit,” Miller said. “And if you are in the cemetery, getting gravesite directions can be enhanced by technology.”

There is also a feature on the website to provide feedback. Viewers may comment on the site and even on specific burial records if they have additional information, Condon said.
The situation at Arlington is much different today than in 2010, when servicemembers, veterans, survivors of fallen troops and Congress were rocked by revelations of unmarked graves, mis-buried remains and more.

The Army and the FBI launched investigations into wrongdoing and the Army replaced leadership at the cemetery. For a time there was discussion of turning the cemetery over to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Starting in June 2011 the Arlington National Cemetery Gravesite Accountability Task Force began poring over 150 years of records to provide an accurate record of burials. As part of their work Soldiers of the Old Guard photographed and uploaded images of Arlington headstone — front and back — onto the database now available to the public. At the same time a separate team of soldiers and Defense Department civilians in Rosslyn began cross-checking the cemetery’s information with VA records.

Kate Kelley, director of accountability at Arlington, said the data has been painstakingly reviewed for accuracy. The database is nearly complete, with 99.4 percent of the cemetery’s 260,000 graves or other burial sites verified.

“This is a great day for veterans and our families,” Condon said.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is an associate editor and White House correspondent for Bryant covers all corners of the military arena, is an expert on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" issues, religious proselytizing and other ongoing military policy issues. He has covered Air Force support missions during the Kosovo War and in 2006 the aero-medical evacuation mission out of Balad Air Base, Iraq.A journalist since 1979, Jordan also covered stories in Lebanon, Gaza and Morocco. During the Vietnam War he was assigned to 15th Admin. Co., 1st Cavalry Division, Bien Hoa Army Base. Before joining Jordan was a staff writer and deputy news editor for Military Timesnewspapers in Springfield, Va.

8 Comments on "Arlington Goes Digital With Smartphone App"

  1. Good to see. Salon's coverage of the shameful stage of Arlington's operation and organization was first-rate work. If they hadn't done it then the petulant, incompetent dinosaurs would still be in charge.

  2. Wonder how many of the "digital" tombstones are missing, or are mislabeled in this app. I'm also curious to know how much the government over paid for this app.

    Edit: Looking at the reviews for the Android version of the app, it's already missing people!

  3. Let's hope this is done at all National Cemeteries. I see every week people coming to pay there respects to loved ones and have no clue where to find them even with the printed map they are given. Our families deserve better.

  4. Your no better then him…

    Don't feed the trolls!

  5. Where is the app.?

  6. Downloaded the app via itunes and works great. Amazing that you can view the actual headstones, fantastic for people whom have loved ones there that can't make the trip. Unfortunately found too many friends via the search feature.

  7. I'm happy with the improvement; however, no paper records scares me. Comparing their data storage to airline bookings is not a good thing in my oppinion. Someone's seat on an airplane is only important until the airplane lands (safely), but the location of a burial site maintains its importance for generations. Where is going to happen to the records if there's a computer virus, a magentic storm, etc. Though I'm sure they have multiple back up copies of their digital records, I'd still feel more safe if they had hard copies as well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.