Partial Remains Of At Least Of 274 Soldiers Dumped In Virginia Landfill

The scandal involving remains of American soldiers that were sent to landfills, which James Joyner wrote about last month, looks like it’s even worse on second glance:

The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had acknowledged, before halting the secretive practice three years ago, records show.

The landfill dumping was concealed from families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner, Air Force officials said. There are no plans, they said, to alert those families now.

The Air Force had maintained that it could not estimate how many troops might have had their remains sent to a landfill. The practice was revealed last month by The Washington Post, which was able to document a single case of a soldier whose partial remains were sent to the King George County landfill in Virginia. The new data, for the first time, show the scope of what has become an embarrassing episode for vaunted Dover Air Base, the main port of entry for America’s war dead.

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 the Dover mortuary in 2008, records show.

Air Force and Pentagon officials said last month that determining how many remains went to the landfill would require searching through the records of more than 6,300 troops whose remains have passed through the mortuary since 2001.

“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.”

Senior Air Force leaders said there was no intent to deceive. “Absolutely not,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.

This week, after The Post pressed for information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database, the Air Force produced a tally based on those records. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008.

An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.

This is utterly disgraceful, and one would assume that some heads are going to roll before this is over.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Hurling Dervish says:

    I think this tragedy also points up a key different between rightwingers and leftwingers. If this had happened during a Democratic administration, you can bet that there would be all kinds of rightwingers screaming about this, and how it shows that Democrats “fundamentally” hate the troops. This happened on the Bush administration’s watch, though, so you don’t hear anything like that.

  2. Boyd says:

    Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Doug (and everyone else). They dumped the ashes from incinerated Hazardous Waste into a landfill. You’re choosing to be offended. I recommend choosing to be rational instead of emotional.

  3. Franklin says:

    I guess I’m with Boyd here. When I die, take any good organs and burn the rest (or whatever you think is best for health/safety/environment). Don’t waste too much time or effort, my remains are worthless to me.

  4. @Boyd:

    That isn’t the way most people would view the issue, I think. And the fact that we’re talking about Service Members who died in battle makes this slightly appalling. Moreover, the fact that the military told family members that these partial remains would be dealt with in a “respectful” manner is I think what gets many people upset.

  5. Boyd says:

    I think you and others need to wrap your heads around what is meant by “partial remains” here, Doug. We’re not talking about a hand or a foot or even a finger. This is material that is routinely disposed in those red, plastic-lined containers in medical facilities, except it comes from a corpse instead of a live person.

  6. Nikki says:

    @Boyd: We treated Osama bin Laden’s corpse with more respect than this. Why don’t you get this?

  7. Boyd says:

    @Nikki: As has been stated over and over (and over), no one is talking about corpses. Why don’t you get this?

  8. @Boyd:

    Then why lie to the families about it? The military has always had a tradition of treating the remains of the fallen with respect, to most people I’d suggest that this falls far short of that

  9. Boyd says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Ahh, now we’re getting down to the meat of the matter. They already got in trouble for disposing of identifiable body parts, which was the result of the IG report on the mortuary’s misbehavior two and three years back.

    In other words, they screwed up bad over mishandling of corpses and body parts, and it’s arguable that insufficient corrective action was taken. But the actions you’re decrying today, as James did last month, don’t rise anywhere near that level. Why did they lie? Because they’re clueless.

    Forgive my disjointed writing, btw. I’m having to write this on my phone. “Royal pain” doesn’t begin to describe the experience.

  10. Boyd says:

    Also, the term “remains” conjures an inaccurate image here. As I said in an earlier comment, these “remains”, as described in the linked WaPo articles, are things that would have been disposed of as infectious waste if they had come from a live person.

  11. Nikki says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Exactly. Like it or not, the period of offense occurred under the Bush administration. Why did the administration find/feel it necessary to reverse course on years of precedence and, knowingly, cause an unnecessary and unforced political crisis?

  12. jd says:

    Clearly, the way to handle this would have been to have a niche at the columbarium labeled “Miscellaneous”. After it all blows over and nobody’s looking, they eventually take the contents and….
    dump it into the landfill.

  13. Bob says:

    No matter how insignificant the part, which one may attempt to trivilize in this matter… Not one drop of blood… Not one piece of ash, that belongs to the remains of an American soldier, who fought and died for our Nation and the chance for the Freedom of others, should be treated in such an undignified, callous and insensitive manner. The blood and guts of our Nations Heros, do not belong in a trash heap. OCCUPY THE LANDFILL! Turn it into a Memorial Park.