Gruesome Details of Mishandled War Dead at Dover Air Force Base
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Dover Air Force base (photo: Roland Balik, U.S. Air Force)
Once again the U.S. military has failed to properly tend to its fallen soldiers, having first botched burials at the nation’s leading cemetery for service personnel and now mistreating remains upon their return to the U.S.
At Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of American soldiers are provided mortuary care after being shipped home, Air Force personnel repeatedly bungled the tasks of preparing and processing remains. A military investigation found “gross mismanagement” at Dover, where body parts became lost and supervisors failed to do their jobs.
The base mortuary lost a dead soldier’s ankle and another set of remains that had been stored in a plastic bag. In another case, employees sawed off the damaged arm bone of a Marine so he could fit into his uniform and coffin without telling his family. Until June 2008, miscellaneous body parts were cremated and dumped in a landfill in King George County, Virginia.
Confronted with the order to cut off the Marine’s arm, autopsy and embalming technician James Parsons refused and, when someone else did it, turned whistleblower. He told The Washington Post: “The Air Force basically tried to make the Air Force not look too bad,” adding, “They did try to cover it up.”
The Air Force disciplined the mortuary commander and two other senior officials, but no one was fired. Some members of Congress have complained that the punishments were not tough enough, and an independent federal watchdog agency said investigators should have pushed harder to assign blame.
The mess at Dover follows on the embarrassment at Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 200 graves were either misidentified or misplaced by Army officials.
Air Force Mishandled Remains of War Dead, Inquiry Finds (by Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe, Washington Post)
Remains of War Dead Dumped in Landfill (by Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe, Washington Post)
Air Force Officials Disciplined Over Handling of Human Remains (by Elisabeth Bumiller and James Dao, New York Times)
Analysis of Disclosures, Agency Investigation and Reports, and Whistleblower Comments (Office of Special Counsel) (pdf)
211 Bodies Misplaced and Misidentified at Arlington Cemetery (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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