December 9, 2011

Followup: Air Force Dumped Troops' Remains in Landfill

I wrote about the US Air Force’s egregious practice of disposing deceased veterans’ remains in a landfill yesterday, noting that there seemed to be information missing. Something didn’t add up.

Last evening’s news programs added a bit more perspective. While it still appears there was a violation of honor in the way these veterans’ remains were treated, it’s not quite as clear-cut as earlier reporting indicated.

It is apparently not the case that service members died in action, their bodies were returned to the US and disposed, intact, in a landfill.

It’s more like service members were violently killed in action, their bodies mutilated beyond recognition, and their remains gathered and returned to the US. Samples of the remains were taken for DNA testing in order to make positive identification. The rest of the remains were transferred to next of kin for burial.

The samples taken for DNA testing, but not needed, as well as samples not identified were cremated and discarded in a Virginia landfill.

CNN has additional detail:

When bodies are not intact — for instance, in the aftermath of a crash or explosion — a body may be released to the family before some parts have been identified by the Air Force Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Families can elect to be notified when parts are identified or leave it up to the military to dispose of them appropriately. Since the policy was changed in 2008, the unclaimed body parts are buried at sea.

There’s plenty of shame to be had in this unfolding story, not the least of which was evident on the face of a uniformed Pentagon officer who stopped cold after describing the discarded remains as “medical waste” to reporters.

That may well have been an accurate description for remains not needed for identification, but it’s a cold way of describing a soldier’s remains after he’s given his life in combat.