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Graves at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery damaged by heavy equipment

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A bulldozer mistakenly damaged dozens of graves at a Maryland veterans cemetery. Now the state's Secretary of Veterans Affairs is apologizing.

Pictures of the damage to Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery went viral over social media. The damage was accidental, but angered many families who had loved ones buried there.

"It's just disgraceful," said Carol Milliken.

Her husband, a major in the U.S. Air Force, was buried there last year. She comes to visit almost every day. Looking at the rows of unearthed headstones and muddy tire tracks inches from her husband's grave almost brought her to tears. Like all those here, he served the nation honorably, only to be dishonored like this.

"It's very sad. I was very upset," she said showing the tire tracks left by the bulldozer backhoe. "They've gone up the side here, you can see the tracks. His stone is right here."

During the last burial Monday, a tractor sunk into the saturated ground, leaving deep trenches across part of the cemetery, buckling the ground and dislodging headstones.

“It's supposed to be a place of honor and dignity where family members can come," said Carl Brown.

His father, who is a military veteran, and his mother are buried at Cheltenham.

Pictures of the damage spread across Facebook. Worried family members came to the cemetery Tuesday, unsure if the gravesites of their loved ones were among the damaged.

“There was a lot of angst for family members, myself included,” said Brown.

It upset Maryland's Secretary of Veterans Affairs too, calling it unacceptable.

"We will personally contact them to let them know even if they don't know, we want to let them know and express our apology," said Secretary Edward Chow, referring to the families of those with gravesites damaged.

Workers came to the cemetery on what should have been a day off to clean up and repair the grounds. No headstones were damaged, just disturbed. Some families were understanding.

"It wasn't on purpose or intentional,” said Keith Lincoln. “It wasn't like somebody broke through the building and did all this on purpose. It was just an accident."

He says his father's headstone has been damaged before and the cemetery quickly replaced it.

The Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs is reviewing the incident and the secretary promised it is an accident that won't be repeated.

"The gravesite is the last honor we can give our veterans and we're not going to let this happen again," said Chow.

The department is also reviewing its operating procedures and said it would take corrective actions.

"I understand they have problems burying people and things, but they need to be more careful," said Milliken.

It's the respect veterans deserve.

For more information about the disruption or burials at a Maryland veterans cemeteries, concerned family members may call:

Dana Hendrickson, MA
Director, Outreach and Advocacy
Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs
410-260-3842
dana.hendrickson@maryland.gov
Visit our website: veterans.maryland.gov

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