Teenage tech guru tackles mixed-up Arlington

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Could one high school whiz kid show up the entire U.S. military?

Count on it. Richard “Ricky” Gilleland III — 11th-grader and Junior Future Business Leaders of America computer ace — has created the only digitized record of where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It’s a tool to help remember people,” the 17-year-old told the L.A. Times. “They can go on and think, ‘Wow, look at all these people who gave their lives just so I can walk around.’ ”

Gilleland’s web site, preserveandhonor.com, is a response to the scandal of Army mismanagement at the cemetery, where unmarked remains and mismarked graves have shamed the military’s resting place.

Investigators have concluded that more than 200 graves were mislabled. The burial ground relies on paper records and index cards to maintain its 200 acres.

But Gilleland is showing how one person willing to act on a good idea can make a difference.

While discussing Arlington’s outdated record-keeping over dinner one night last summer, Ricky — who had just gotten an A in his Programming 1 class at school — announced, “I can fix that.” His mother didn’t doubt it. She still remembered her older sons complaining they were locked out of the computer again because Ricky, age 4, had changed all the passwords.

“He was the kid who figured things out,” Elisabeth Van Dyk, 46, said of her youngest. “He took apart remote controls and his brothers’ toys and put them back together again. You could trust he knew what he was talking about.”

Army Times made brief mention of his efforts in November of last year, but the project seemed worth amplifying here, especially given the broader attention he’s getting.

Gilleland’s efforts alone won’t solve the problems at Arlington. There are 400,000 graves at the cemetery, and his focus has been limited to Section 60, where about 700 vets who died after Sept. 11, 2001 are buried.

He said he is open to putting them all on his site, but he said he told WUSA-TV that he would need a lot of volunteers to help.

 

[via L.A. Times, NPRWUSA-TV]

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