Flooded grave markers at Fort Sam Houston could caused by broken valve

Flooded graves could be fault of broken valve

A San Antonio woman was in disbelief after arriving at her father's grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery and finding it underwater.

Elizabeth Marroquin immediately called Fort Sam Houston administrators and then called KENS 5 to figure out what happened.

Every New Year's Day, Marroquin pays respects to her father just in time for his birthday, December 31.

"Since he's passed away, I come over and I talk to him and tell him what's happened in the past year," she said.

This past weekend would have been her dad's 100th birthday. When Marroquin arrived at his grave site to pay her respects, she found his headstone under two inches of water.

"To be able to come here and visit a loved one and not be able to sit down in the grass and talk to them because it's flooded with sewer water is unforgivable," Marroquin described.

Marroquin's father, Rudy Marroquin, is buried in Section 1 of the cemetery. It's an older part of the property where graves don't have a concrete burial vault. Marroquin was buried in 1984, before the cemetery starting using them.

A few feet away, heavy track marks over new irrigation pipes suggested a leak may be to blame.

Officials believe the problem stems from a valve malfunction in an irrigation pipe underground. KENS 5 was told that between 30 and 40 graves inside Section 1 could have been affected by water, but only nine flat markers were found submerged.

KENS 5 alerted Fort Sam administrators to the flooded flat markers. Marroquin said that she also reached out to administrators, but they couldn't be reached immediately due to the holiday.

Frieda L. Robinson, director of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, and Robert Winkler, the foreman of the cemetery, showed KENS 5 that Section 1 headstones firsthand.

When asked whether the standing water meant that the casket underground was also underground, Robinson only had a theoretical response.

"It could very well be, however we're not going to disturb remains," she said. "As a national cemetery as a whole, we won't."

Contractors, who installed the new irrigation project, will re-inspect the pipes by the end of the week to officially diagnose the problem and start fixing what's underground.

Winkler said that crews check every section of the cemetery at least once a week for any problems or maintenance issues that need to be addressed.

On top of the new irrigation system, Fort Sam has several other construction projects underway to update the cemetery.

"We do ask the general public to please bear with us," Robinson said. "These changes and upgrades have been a long time coming, so we're happy to have them here. I assure you, once they're done, Fort Sam will be, again, one of the most beautiful places in the country."

They're renovating the turf to provide long-term relief for older parts of the cemetery prone to flooding and to help alleviate ponding near the grave sites.

Visitors will also notice that the front entrance off Harry Wurzbach is closed for the installation of fiber-optic and electricity lines and for the construction for a new Public Information Center.

A raise and realignment project for upright headstones and flat markers will also begin soon. 

Starting in May, crews will build an overpass along Nursery Road and an underpass from east to west along San Antonio Boulevard. This project, connecting military housing to JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, is expected to finish within 88 days.

"We're going to continue to do our best to make sure that we continue to provide a beautiful and dignified burial place," Robinson said.

To report a problem inside Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, call the administration office at 210-820-3891. You can speak with a staff member and they will have an employee address your concern immediately.

Office hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Over 200,000 veterans and their families are buried inside the 217 acres of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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