Conflict & Justice

274 US troop remains dumped at landfill by Dover Air Base


Military chaplains pay respects to two marines at Dover Air Force Base. The base dumped the remains of 274 US troops in a landfill between 2004-08.


Mark Wilson

The US Air Force dumped the remains of 274 troops in a Virginia landfill in between 2004-08, unbeknownst to soldiers' families, The Washington Post reported Thursday.  

The dumping was kept from families, and there are no plans to notify them now, Air Force officials told the Post. 

The Post broke the story a month ago, before the scope of the practice was known. New data reveals that 976 fragments from 274 soldiers were incinerated and disposed of at King George County Landfill by Dover Air Force Base, the main entry point for America's war casualties and the largest military morgue in the country, the Post reported. 

An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains from the battlefield — which could not be tested for DNA because they were too damaged — were disposed of in the same way, the Washington Post reported. There were over 2,700 fragmented remains dumped in the landfill. A precise count would require combing through 6,300 records. 

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." 

Air force officials told The Washington Post they are not sure when the landfill disposals began, but the first recorded instance was February 23, 2004. They halted the practice in 2008 because "there was a better way to do it," Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, told The Post. The military now cremates unidentified remains and buries the ashes at sea, according to the Post. 

The landfill dumping occurred at a time when media coverage of war casualties returning was not allowed, which lasted from 1991 until 2009, when the Obama administration lifted the ban.