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Repairs underway at veterans cemetery after photo shows damage

6:30 PM, Dec 31, 2013   |    comments
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WUSA9 viewers brought this story to our attention via Facebook. Hear from some of them tonight on WUSA9.

(WUSA9)--  Repairs are underway at a Maryland veterans cemetery after a Facebook photo exposed damage done to dozens of graves by heavy equipment being operated by cemetery employees Monday.

Meanwhile, Maryland's Secretary of Veteran's Affairs is calling the incident "unacceptable" and is promising personal apologies to the families affected by the incident.

"We want to let them know and express our apology," said Sec. Edward Chow Jr. after surveying the damage.

At least 56 graves were disturbed when Chow said a veteran worker drove a backhoe over muddy ground and got stuck. Workers were preparing a grave site for a late-day burial, Chow said when the "unacceptable mistake" was made.

Lesser damage was seen at a second site on the cemetery grounds.

The damage came to light when an outraged mourner took a photo that was posted to the Facebook page of Southern Maryland Online.

Sky 9 flew over the scene of the damage at the Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery in Md. (see photos here: http://www.wusa9.com/news/photo-gallery.aspx?storyid=287845).

Repairs included cleaning, washing and resetting grave markers as well as filling in ruts left by heavy equipment.   Chow said touch ups will take additional time and will require the ground to dry.  Chow promised a review of operations at the cemetery and additional training so that damage "never happens again."

Maryland operates 5 veteran's cemeteries where at least 80-thousand state residents and spouses are buried.

In a statement, Edward Chow, the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs said, "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. 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."

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