Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered immediate improvements yesterday for Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Baltimore County, where more than 1,000 grass-less graves are mired in mud and surrounded by weeds.
Mike Morrill, the governor's director of communications, said Glendening's order was in response to complaints detailed in a Sun article that Morrill sent in an e-mail to the governor as he traveled from Prague, Czech Republic, to Germany on a trade mission.
"He sent back word that this situation is absolutely unacceptable, and he has instructed the [Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs] to get it fixed immediately," Morrill said. "He wants them to get this cemetery back in presentable shape to give appropriate honor due to the veterans who are buried there."
Morrill said the work will include planting grass seed and grading areas where rain has eroded the soil.
Morrill said the governor wants to see results at the state-owned cemetery by the time he returns to Maryland next month.
He also said that if the veterans department is unable to make the repairs and plant grass seed, officials there should seek help from the state Department of General Services.
"We will find money wherever we can find money. Whether we reallocate money in their department or go to other places in the state budget, they will do this," said Morrill.
Angry relatives of veterans buried in the newest part of the cemetery complain about weeds, ruts between graves from rainfall and gravestones that have sunk so low into the mud that the names of the dead were unreadable.
The cemetery staff has fallen behind in installing granite gravestones to replace temporary markers, some of which date back seven months.
Morrill said the governor also wants to see a plan for the cemetery to "get caught up on placing gravestones."
News of the governor's order was met with relief yesterday.
Sharon Gudenius of Linthicum, whose parents are buried in a plot of mud and weeds -- and whose father's gravestone is broken -- said she was glad to hear that the governor wants to make the cemetery presentable.
"It's a shame we won't get it done for this holiday," she said, referring to Monday's observance of Memorial Day. "Maybe it'll be done for the next holiday."
She said that after visiting her parents' graves Tuesday and finding them surrounded by mud, she bought grass seed, returned to the cemetery and planted the seed.
Dennis Rebok, a Vietnam veteran who is a member of the executive board of Maryland's American Legion, said, "I'm certainly glad to hear it, but why would the governor have to get involved in the first place?"
The news of conditions at the cemetery, he said, "must have struck a nerve down in Annapolis."
Chris Hobbs, assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said yesterday that her agency has been trying to solve the problems at the Baltimore County cemetery for months but has had trouble getting grass to grow on the graves.
She said department officials will meet next week with vendors to consider putting topsoil around the graves to get the grass seed to take hold.
"We will take all the funding and help available to us that we can get," she said.