The Virginia mortuary handling the bodies of U.S. Soldiers returned home for burial, dumped thousands of remains of sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, in a landfill. The story is so egregious it is beyond comprehension. This afternoon I caught a short clip on Fox News with someone in Military uniform saying that taking the remains to the dump was the “practice” at the time. There are no plans today to inform the families of those sent to trash heap. Here are the details, and I’m putting them in list form because there is no appropriate way to chat about this. Note that these actions were taken by U.S. Air Force personnel.
1) After arriving at Dover Air Base, at least 976 body parts of 274 soldiers returned from war zones were dumped in a Kings County, Virginia landfill between 2004 and 2008.
2) The families did not know their loved ones had been trashed, literally.
3) In addition to the body parts that were matched, 1,763 unidentified body parts went to the landfill.
4) A total of 2,700 incinerated body parts went into the landfill. The Air Force finally came up with a number. You know they lowballed it.
5) After 2008, no more trips were made to the landfill. The story is that soldiers are now buried at sea.
The Dover mortuary underwent an investigation a month ago which found “gross mismanagement” of soldiers’ remains by the base: the morgue kept body parts in their coolers for months or even years before properly identifying them and disposing of them. According to the report,
“The report demonstrates a pattern of the Air Force’s failure to acknowledge culpability for wrongdoing relating to the treatment of remains of service members and their dependents. While the report reflects a willingness to find paperwork violations and errors, with the exception of the cases of missing portions, the findings stop short of accepting accountability for failing to handle remains with the requisite “reverence, care, and dignity befitting them and the circumstances.”
This from Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones:
“It is certainly not the way we would have done it looking back,” Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said to reporters at an afternoon news conference…
Speaking from the Pentagon, Jones said the remains belonged to soldiers whose family members had already reached emotional closure after their loved one’s death, and had made the “tough decision” to sign forms saying they did not wish to know if additional body parts were discovered.
The families were promised an “appropriate disposition,” according to Jones. Portions of soldiers’ bodies, most often pieces of soft tissue or bone fragments, were cremated at the Dover Mortuary. Those ashes were then incinerated.
Any residual materials were then turned over to a private contractor and disposed of according to “common industry practice at the time,” Jones said.
While the practice was common, according to the Pentagon, there was no contractual stipulation that the remains be placed in the landfill.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is “comfortable” with how the Air Force has managed fallout from scandals involving body parts at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary and believes senior leaders have been “forthcoming” about problems there, Pentagon spokesmen said Thursday.
Panetta also supports the Air Force’s decision not to notify relatives of 274 fallen service members that their partial incinerated remains were secretly dumped in a Virginia landfill, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.
“The secretary is comfortable with the way the Air Force has handled this,” Kirby told reporters at a news conference.
Kirby said there were “real constraints” that restrict the Air Force from notifying relatives of the dead troops. Air Force officials said each of the families signed forms stipulating that they did not wish to be notified if additional remains were subsequently recovered or identified.
The forms authorized the military to dispose of those remains in an “appropriate manner,” but the families were never told that the remains would be cremated, incinerated and dumped in a landfill.
The landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies or regulations. They also were not disclosed to senior Pentagon officials who conducted a high-level review of cremation policies at theDover mortuary in 2008, records show.
“It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” Jo Ann Rooney, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.).
Holt, who has pressed the Pentagon for answers on behalf of a constituent whose husband was killed in Iraq, accused the Air Force and Defense Department of hiding the truth.
“What the hell?” Holt said in a phone interview. “We spent millions, tens of millions, to find any trace of soldiers killed, and they’re concerned about a ‘massive’ effort to go back and pull out the files and find out how many soldiers were disrespected this way?” He added: “They just don’t want to ask questions or look very hard.”
The Air Force says there was no intent to “deceive,” but there can be no doubt that not a single loved one of these deceased troops would ever approve of their son, daughter, husband, father, mother, brother, sister, being put in the trash.