Local 2 Investigates mistakes at veterans cemetery

Several headstones misplaced

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Houston National Cemetery is considered sacred ground where veterans are honored, and families gather to connect with loved ones past. Yet, since January of 2012, officials at the cemetery have faced questions about incorrectly marked graves.

Fredericke Inocencio has visited her husband's grave regularly since he died in 1981. Inocencio wants to be buried with her husband.

"His birthday, our anniversary, Christmas," said Inocencio. "At least four or five times a year."

Inocencio met her husband, Jose, in Austria at the end of Word War II. Jose was a corporal in the Army and a part of Allied Forces left to help Europe rebuild. After the war, the pair settled in Houston and raised seven children who joined the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Fire Department.

The Inocencio family contacted Local 2 after becoming concerned that Jose's headstone was placed over the wrong grave.

"It's not where it was before," said Fredericke. "It's like five or six graves off."

Fredricke said she became concerned her husband's headstone was placed over the wrong grave about two years ago when renovations were conducted on that part of the cemetery. Cemetery officials said the renovations were done to bolster sagging ground.

"There were backhoes on the location, all the grass was gone and the headstones removed," said Inocencio's son, Jesse.

The family said for two years they have tried to get someone at the cemetery to listen to their concerns.

"Every time I come here I tell my sons, 'your daddy is not under there,'" said Fredericke. "Sure hate to be buried there."

"It really kills me deep inside to see her like that," said Inocencio's' other son, Jose.

"They just never showed us proof, they never showed us any maps," said Jesse.

"We're not hard to satisfy, just show us some blueprints," said son Jose.

The family's suspicions reached a tipping point over Memorial Day weekend when they met, by chance, a woman by the name of Theresa Galloway.

"It was just a horrible feeling," said Galloway.

Galloway traveled from Arkansas to visit her mother and step-father's grave. Galloway said when she arrived she found another man's headstone placed over her parent's grave.

"I was so upset, my blood pressure was over my head, I was sick at my stomach," said Galloway. "I wanted to hurt somebody."

Compounding her anger, Galloway said she found the same headstone placed over her parent's grave was also placed over another grave in a different part of the cemetery.

"I said, 'wow, he must have been something to have two headstones in the cemetery,'" Galloway said, referring to the headstone incorrectly placed over her parent's grave.

Galloway said when she informed cemetery staff of the problem, a worker came and took away the headstone over her parent's' grave, put down a temporary marker and gave her a muddled excuse about "damage from a lawn mower."

"I have never heard, 'we're sorry, this was a mistake,'" said Galloway. "They've never admitted to anything."

After speaking with these families, Local 2 contacted Sara Elton, Chief of Operations for all national cemeteries from Texas to South Dakota.

"There's no excuse for that, none," said Elton in reference to Galloway never receiving a response from cemetery staff. "That's our fault, we made a mistake."

Elton said the wrong headstone was placed over Galloway's parent's' grave because of a mistake made by a government contractor. Elton said when the contractor remade the headstone, the wrong gravesite number was used. Elton said the staff at the cemetery simply went by that number and did not verify whether the name on the headstone matched the grave.

Elton said because of this mistake, policies have been re-written at all National Cemeteries in the country.

"Everything has been rewritten since May, everything," said Elton. "Everything changed for our process. We realized we had to add a second page for review showing the name and the number instead of just the number and the section."

The correct headstone has been placed over Galloway's parent's grave. Elton also personally called Galloway to apologize for the mistake, the lack of a response and for cemetery staff initially giving Galloway an untruthful answer about what happened to her parent's' headstone.

Elton also personally met with the Inocencio family at the cemetery to show them maps, walk the area and explain the process for how headstones are placed following renovations. Elton assured the family that Jose Inocencio's headstone is over his grave.

Elton believes a tree Fredericke used as a reference point when visiting her husband's grave during the past 30 years was removed during renovations. Elton said she believes that is what may have thrown off Fredericke.

"It's our job to explain what we do everyday to help them trust us," said Elton.

"I wish they had done this two years ago," said son Jose.

The family said they felt better after meeting with Elton, but still have lingering doubts. The family said they have still have concerns because of an admission last January by the Veterans Administration that 14 graves at the Houston National Cemetery were mismarked and one person was placed in the wrong grave.

During a follow-up phone conversation, Elton told Local 2 those problems were all corrected and all families involved were contacted. Elton also pointed out those graves were in a different section of the cemetery than where Jose Inocencio is buried.

The Inocencio family met personally with Congressman Ted Poe on Tuesday to discuss their concerns. The congressman has now launched his own inquiry to ensure there are no mistakes involving Jose Inocencio's grave.

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