An investigation at the Cheltenham Maryland Veteran's Cemetery has been ordered after a family complained they were hustled through services for their mother, refused permission to witness her burial and are now unsure where she was ultimately laid to rest.
"I need to know that she is where they say," said 72-year old Marine Corps veteran Skip Giddens as he struggled with his emotions Monday. His wife Lynta was buried at Cheltenham January 2.
Maryland's Secretary of Veteran's Affairs George W. Owings, III visited the cemetery Monday after receiving the complaints and has "ordered a complete investigation into the situation," Owings wrote in an email to WUSA9.
In a complaint sent to Maryland legislators and veteran's organizations, Lynta Giddens son Chris Teegarden called what happened on the day of his mother's burial "vile ineptitude."
Teegarden said the family was told their pastor would have only seven minutes to perform a committal ceremony in the cemetery chapel and they were denied their request to witness the burial afterward, in violation of the Department of Veteran's Affairs written cemetery policies which allow 20 minutes for ceremonies and attendance at burials from nearby walkways or roadsides.
"My father and I pleaded to be allowed to watch my mother, his wife, be taken to her final resting spot, to which we were emphatically told “no.” After the committal service, and against the direction previously given, I took it upon myself to walk over to area H3 to try to observe her internment. I arrived too late," Teegarden wrote in his complaint.
Teegarden said he questioned workers who left him unsure about where his mother had been buried, especially since Teegarden said the temporary marker for her was 15 plots away from where he was being directed.
"I stood there as I watched three grounds keepers pick up three temporary markers and shuffle them to alternate spots. The grounds keepers could not tell me exactly what gravesite they placed my mother in and even tried to have me go back to the office and have the paperwork changed to reflect a different site location," Teegarden wrote.
Teegarden and his father said the moving of markers after questioning workers was like witnessing a shell game.
Skip Giddens choked with emotion when asked about his plans to be buried with his wife.
"I don't want to be with 'Joe Smith.' I want to be with Lynta," he said pausing to gather himself. "Every day its upsetting to not know."
The couple had been married 31 years before she died of cancer in December.
Giddens served in the Marines during the Vietnam War.
In 2014 after a WUSA9 investigation, the cemetery was cited for illegal dumping on its own property.
Buried debris included small US flags used to decorate graves. Earlier families complained after tractors navigating soft soil disturbed grave markers, leaving some buried in mud.