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IMCOM team verifies Army gravestones

Published: 08:24AM May 11th, 2013
IMCOM teams verifies Army gravestones

Christopher Gaylord/Northwest Guardian

Sgt. Travis Wilson and Pfc. Sophonie Celiscar photograph grave markers at the JBLM Lewis Main cemetery May 7.

A team from Army Installation Management Command and Joint Base Lewis-McChord concluded a comprehensive cemetery accountability project last week at the Fort Lewis cemetery, and will continue the mission at four other regional military burial sites overseen by JBLM’s casualty office.

The goal was to ensure the burial and death information of fallen active duty and retired Soldiers laid to rest in the cemeteries is accurate and complete, said Desiree Blake, IMCOM installation cemetery operations chief. Up until now, Blake said records of interment and burial documents of Soldiers have been manually recorded.

“What we’re doing now is automating the process,” she said.

That is being accomplished through a smartphone application that records photos of grave site markers, grave numbers, row and section locations, and exact geographic information system coordinates. The data is then uploaded to a research tool used by government agencies to help Family members who are looking for their deceased Army veteran relatives.

“This is great because we are using today’s technology to do something good for the people that are buried here and for their Families who are looking for them,” Blake said.

The Army-wide cemetery accountability mission began when officials were informed of discrepancies in death records and burial information for a number of service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, said Mike Looney, a memorial affairs coordinator with JBLM’s casualty office. The Secretary of the Army then directed all grave sites at Army cemeteries be documented and verified.

Fort Lewis Cemetery burial plots show Soldiers from every major American conflict buried there, dating back to the Civil War. Even though the assignment of social security numbers commenced in 1936, the Defense Department didn’t adopt them as identification numbers for military personnel until 1967, according to the Social Security Administration’s website.

The project is necessary, Looney said, since death certificates and burial information recorded by hand in the past could have been wrong. Or there could have been a typographical error on the grave marker. People make mistakes, he said.

“Now we should be able to rectify everything,” Looney said. “We’re getting things right.”

Blake said the ultimate objective is to make all of cemetery accountability project’s data accessible to the public through a web-based platform so that anyone is able to complete a search and find the exact location of a family member’s burial plot; however, right now the information is limited to government agencies.

Blake said the Secretary of the Army wants the accountability project completed by June 30. Her team is about halfway through their list of cemeteries.

In the coming weeks, the team will carry on their work at Fort Stevens cemetery in Oregon; Fort Lawton cemetery in downtown Seattle; Fort Warden cemetery in Port Townsend, Wash.; and Fort Vancouver Barracks cemetery in Vancouver, Wash.