An image of a state-run veterans’ cemetery posted to the aggregation website Reddit this week is causing a controversy. The image, originally posted by the page "U.S Army W.T.F! moments" on Facebook, captures a scene from Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery, run by the Maryland department of veterans affairs.
Except that instead of a somber ground where those who served our country and their spouses take their final rest, a backhoe appears to have driven over headstones of deceased veterans and their loved ones.
The individual who posted the photo isn’t named, but it bears this description:
"Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery, Maryland today, time now. We are laying my grandfather to rest, a Korea/Vietnam veteran, I walk over to see his plot prior to the service, and this is what I see. A backhoe that literally went through the graves, and over some graves to dig up the hole on his plot. Around it although not clearly visible in the picture about eight (8) dudes, that when confronted were like no big deal bro, we have a hole to dig.”
Local ABC affiliate WJLA reported that the cemetery was a possible victim of vandalism, concluding "At this point, it's still unclear exactly what happened."
A Reddit user claims to have captured a screenshot of a Facebook response by the Maryland department of veterans affairs, responding to the matter:
"Thank you for connecting with the MDVA, we are equally as concerned with ensuring our veterans cemeteries are kept to the highest standards in honor of our veterans. Due to heavy rain and warm weather, the grounds at Cheltenham experienced some sinkage. While attempting to complete a re-open, a backhoe became stuck and had to be pulled out of the mud. As a result, you see from the photo, some ground and a marker were impacted. This is very much out of the ordinary for our cemeteries. In response, crews are currently fixing the ground and restoring the impacted markers. The repair should be complete by tomorrow. To ensure the integrity of this information, a photo of the grounds will be posted no later than Friday to Facebook. The MDVA is acutely aware of this issue and is already working to resolve the situation. We desire nothing more than to hold the memory of our veterans in the highest esteem.”
Calls to the Maryland department of veterans affairs were not returned.
This isn’t the first time the Maryland-run cemetery has been criticized for its practices. A 2007 story by the Washington Post highlighted some veterans and their families who were disappointed with how the cemetery operates.
One World War II Navy vet had to wait six months before a marker was placed over his wife’s grave, and a year later, no grass had grown over her grave. He told the Post, “It’s terrible how they treat people out here.”
An official for the state’s cemetery and memorial program told the Post it "usually takes about 30 days to get the headstone because the federal government pays for that."
The Post reported at the time:
"At Cheltenham, families are allowed about 15 minutes to say farewell to their loved one at the cemetery's chapel, and then the remains are taken away for a mass burial in rows of 20.”
It isn’t clear that these practices are the same at all veterans' cemeteries, with one veteran telling the Post, "some of the ladies can't even get to their husbands without wading through mud and dust…. It is not like this at Arlington."