Tomorrow, America honors its living veterans of military service with affection and honor for their dedication and courageous service to our nation. Unfortunately, the Washington Post reported last night that some of those who gave their last full measure of devotion got treated with much less honor and dignity:
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.
To be clear, Dover AFB did not do this with whole remains, which were handled individually. Handling portions of remains with dignity and respect is more of a challenge, but of all organizations, one would think that the military would have acquired some expertise in this. The solution used now, burial at sea, confers a lot more dignity and respect than tossing the ashes literally on the trashheap.
Needless to say, families of those so discarded are aghast at the treatment their loved ones received:
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.”
Not only did the Air Force neglect to mention this process to the families of those lost, they also forgot to tell the landfill owner, too:
An Air Force document shows that the landfill is in King George County, Va. Officials with Waste Management Inc., which operates the landfill, said the company was not informed about the origin of the ashes. “We were not specifically made aware of that process by the Air Force,” said Lisa Kardell, a spokeswoman for the company.
Thankfully, Dover AFB has changed its processes, but those responsible for the decision to dump the remains of American servicemen in the trash during that five-year period should be encouraged to find work elsewhere, if they still remain in the armed services. This Veterans Day, while thanking those veterans whom we celebrate, spare a moment to pray for the fallen who received such insensitive treatment and their families as well.