Outrage builds over Air Force dumping parts of soldiers' remains in Virginia landfill
Partial remains of at least 274 soldiers processed at Dover Air Force Base were dumped in a Virginia landfill, rather than disposed of in a cemetery or in a way that most would consider honorable.
The cremated partial remains of at least 274 American soldiers did not go to a cemetery.
Instead, they went to a landfill. That American soldiers' remain went to a Virginia landfill is, unfortunately, not new news. But the breadth of the tragedy is just now coming to light, in a new report by the Washington Post. The Post was the first to discover that the military was taking partial remains of American soldiers, and whose family members had said could be disposed of by the military.
Initially, the Air Force, which operates the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, had resisted calls for a full accounting of how widespread the process was. Under pressure from the media and Congressional representatives, as well as family members wondering if parts of their loved ones may be laying in a landfill.
Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq in 2006, received a letter from Dover mortuary earlier this year saying the military cremated and incinerated her husband's partial remains and disposed of them in the King George landfill. Smith said when she was making her husband's final arrangements, she was given the opportunity to be re-notified if any additional remains from her husband were found, or not to be. She chose not to be notified, though she said she was assured they would be "honorably buried."
"I've been investigating this since my husband died," Smith said. "Within the first year, I began requesting what happened to soldier's remains and service-member's remains when the family does not wish to be notified, as well as remains that can't be identified."
Those also wound up in the landfill.
Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., is outraged by the Defense Department's handling of the remains, and the controversy that has erupted.
"I think the most striking thing about the Defense Department response is the complete lack of acknowledgement of a scandal, or a problem," Holt said. "As recently as (Wednesday), they were trying to explain it away."
Holt said that the military has refused to deal with the problem and acknowledge this is not the solemnity and dignity and honor that soldiers and the families deserve.
The military has resisted efforts to do a full accounting of how many soldiers' partial remains may have been sent to the landfill, saying it would be a "massive effort."
"We in the United States spend tens of millions of dollars, ever year, to search for and recover remains of those missing in action, including in southeast Asia from decades ago," Holt said. "It actually makes you proud to be an American, to know we do that. And yet you hear about this desecration and it just sends shutters."
Holt said he knows that there were five investigations of the Dover mortuary in the last decade and none of them uncovered this — or if they did, realized that this is not "dignified, is not honorable, is not sensitive to the families or, to that matter, to those who are still serving in uniform."
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