Update on 5/7/12 — We have published a statement from Arlington National Cemetery.
A weathered gravestone for Robert Porter Patterson, a top military official during World War II, can be seen propped up against an old building inside the future Penzance office construction site in Clarendon.
Patterson was the Undersecretary of War during World War II and is credited with being “instrumental in the mobilization of the armed forces preparatory to and during” the war. He later served as Secretary of War under President Harry Truman.
Patterson was also a Harvard Law School graduate, a decorated army officer during World War I, a U.S. District Court judge, a prominent New York City attorney, and president of the Council of Foreign Relations. He died in a plane crash in 1952 and was buried in Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s unclear how Patterson’s gravestone — inscribed “Soldier. Jurist. Statesman.” — came to be propped up against the aging brick building along 11th Street N., next to a small fenced-in parking lot. The structure is set to be torn down as part of a large new office complex that will soon be built on the site.
One likely explanation is that the gravestone was somehow connected to the now-shuttered T.A. Sullivan and Son cemetery monument business, which is located within the Penzance block and which provided monuments to Arlington National Cemetery. However, we were unable to reach anybody at the business’ Vienna location to confirm that.
Reached by phone, Arlington National Cemetery officials were unable to provide any information about the wayward gravestone, and were unable to confirm whether there is a newer monument now marking Patterson’s grave.
In 2010 the cemetery was rocked by a scandal after it was revealed that hundreds, maybe even thousands of graves were misidentified or misplaced and that a number of gravestones had been discarded along the banks of a small stream.
Hat tip to Peter Golkin