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American War Dead Dumped in Landfill

The remains of US servicemen killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were thrown out with the trash.

WaPo (“Remains of war dead dumped in landfill“):

The Dover Air Force Base mortuary for years disposed of portions of troops’ remains by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a Virginia landfill, a practice that officials have since abandoned in favor of burial at sea.

The Dover, Del., mortuary, the main point of entry for the nation’s war dead and the target of federal investigations of alleged mishandling of remains, engaged in the practice from 2003 to 2008, according to Air Force officials. The manner of disposal was not disclosed to relatives of fallen service members.

Air Force officials acknowledged the practice Wednesday in response to inquiries from The Washington Post. They said the procedure was limited to fragments or portions of body parts that were unable to be identified at first or were later recovered from the battlefield, and which family members had said could be disposed of by the military. Lt. Gen. Darrell G. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief for personnel, said the body parts were cremated, then incinerated, and then taken to a landfill by a military contractor. He likened the procedure to the disposal of medical waste. Jones also could not estimate how many body parts were handled in this way. “That was the common practice at the time, and since then our practices have improved,” he said.

[...]

The Dover mortuary changed its policy in June 2008, Jones said. Since then, the Navy has placed the cremated remains of body parts in urns that are buried at sea.

Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops’ body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, Jones declined to answer directly. “We have recognized a much better way of doing things,” he said. “Let me be emphatic: I think the current procedures are better.”

The disclosure of the landfill disposals comes in the aftermath of multiple federal investigations that documented “gross mismanagement” at Dover Air Force Base, which receives the remains of all service members killed in action in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere overseas.

On Tuesday, the Air Force acknowledged that the mortuary had lost a dead soldier’s ankle and an unidentified body part recovered from an air crash; had sawed off a Marine’s arm so his body would fit in his casket; and had improperly stored and tracked other remains.

This is truly appalling. While I’m not overly sentimental about the treatment of dead bodies, it’s an incredibly sensitive matter for most.

Gari-Lynn Smith, portions of whose husband’s remains were disposed of in the landfill after his 2006 death in Iraq, said she was “appalled and disgusted” by the way the Air Force had acted. She learned of the landfill disposal earlier this spring in a letter from a senior official at the Dover mortuary. “My only peace of mind in losing my husband was that he was taken to Dover and that he was handled with dignity, love, respect and honor,” Smith said. “That was completely shattered for me when I was told that he was thrown in the trash.”

[...]

“What happened at Dover AFB exceeds on many levels the nationwide anger that resulted from reports of mistreated wounded at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007 and reports of lost or misplaced graves at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Richard L. DeNoyer, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “You only get one chance to return our fallen warriors to their families with all the dignity and respect they deserve from a grateful nation — and that mortuary affairs unit failed.”

Disgraceful.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    This is how we’ve always treated veterans. “Thank you for your service” BS to their faces, then out with the trash when they’re no longer of use. Par for the course in America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. sam says:

    Tommy Atkins

    by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
    O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
    But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
    But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

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  3. Boyd says:

    Disgraceful

    Well, okay. If you say so.

    The problem with this discussion is that some people are talking as though entire bodies were cremated, incinerated, then dumped in a landfill. If that’s what happened, then this righteous indignation is merited.

    Unfortunately for those who are indignant, that’s not what this story says happened. And for the record, if my son had been killed during his Marine service, and this happened to his left foot, or his pinky or whatever small body part, I wouldn’t be exercised over it. I might shake my head and, with typical inter-service rivalry, mutter, “Air Force. Hmph!” But wailing that my son’s body had been desecrated and dishonored? Nah, that’s over the top.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    Disgraceful. Just piss all over the families of service members, many of whom will care a lot more about what happens to the partial remains of their loved ones than I would.

    Personally, I want my family to refuse to claim my body, and for whatever government agency that ends up with it to do whatever random crap they do to dead bodies — one last act of irresponsibility on my part, to commemorate a life of not taking care of things.

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