- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Officials said damage done Dec. 30 to the Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Cheltenham was “inadvertent.”
On that day, an employee of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs inadvertently drove a backhoe over the saturated ground, moving several grave markers and damaging the lawn at the veterans cemetery, according to a news release from the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. The cemetery is in Prince George’s County.
Since the incident, officials said in the release, cemetery staff have realigned and cleaned the markers and distributed the topsoil by raking and seeding the affected areas and will continue until the area is restored.
A photo of the disturbed grounds was circulated over social network sites, and many commenters voiced opinions on the matter. Many suggested the disturbance was disrespectful to veterans.
“This is a regretful situation, and I am deeply sorry for the events, which occurred, and every effort will be made to guarantee the dignity and respect of our Cemeteries,” Edward Chow, secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, stated in the news release.
George Satterthwaite of Fort Washington, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, said he believes that the damage was an inadvertent error.
He said the cemetery has been undergoing renovations because many of the gravestones set in the ground have been sinking over the years.
He said two or three days prior to the incident there were heavy rains, and the saturated ground caused the heavy equipment to damage the lawn. Satterthwaite said there are roadways in between some of the rows, and at one point a front loader slipped off the roadway and knocked one of the grave markers.
Satterthwaite, who is the Cheltenham lead for the Wreaths Across America project, was at the cemetery about two weeks prior to the incident laying 460 wreaths as part of the program. He said he had no concerns with how the cemetery looked at the time, and he has no concerns with how the grounds are kept. He said during projects such as the one underway to repair sunken stones, any disturbance to the lawn has been repaired right away.
In this situation he feels that more than the picture that circulated social media, a lot of the anger stemmed from comments by the workers.
He said when confronted about the incident, the cemetery workers could have been more reverent.
In the release, Chow addressed how the situation is being handled.
“The Department is reviewing the incident to ensure this type of event does not occur in the future. We will continue in our charge to serve and honor our veteran community and their families. I will be personally contacting the family members of any of the markers that were moved to ensure them of the integrity of the site,” he stated in the release.
The MDVA is reviewing current operating procedures and will take corrective actions to ensure best practices are in place moving forward, according to the release. Concerned family members may contact the office’s Outreach Director Dana Hendrickson at 410-260-3842 for more information about the disruption or burials at Maryland’s veterans cemeteries.