Arlington unveils a new unknown soldier

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For the first time in a generation, Arlington National Cemetery has marked the burial of an unknown on its storied grounds. Only this time, 25 years since the last interment at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the identity of the body remains a mystery not because the ravages of war made identification impossible, but because in a bureaucratic error the cemetery lost the paperwork showing the identity of the remains...

... This is the first time the cemetery has marked an unknown since 1984, when Arlington entombed the remains of a Vietnam veteran in the Tomb of the Unknowns in a ceremony rife with pomp and circumstance. Former President Reagan presided, posthumously awarding that service member the Medal of Honor. And that unknown soldier was supposed to be the last unknown interred in any U.S. military cemetery, given advances in DNA technology and a multimillion dollar effort to account for every soldier and identify all remains. A body that could not be identified was supposed to be a thing of the past.

But Arlington's newest unknown, buried without special ceremony, is the exception to what was intended to be the rule. The cemetery buried someone in grave 449 -- likely relatively recently, since that section is an active part of the cemetery -- and then lost track of the paperwork showing the identity of the remains. In 2003, workers went to bury a newly deceased service member in that plot, only to find unmarked remains in the ground. Paper records had listed the plot as vacant.

Rather than publicly admit this error, Arlington quietly left the remains unmarked for six years. For those six years, passersby saw only an empty plot of green grass in spot 449, surrounded by stones etched with names.

This remained the case until this past summer, when Salon began working on tips from current and former workers at Arlington who said these kinds of mistakes occur with disturbing frequency at the cemetery, which calls itself "our nation's most sacred shrine."...

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