Shame: U.S. Military Dumped Bodies of Death Soldiers in Landfill

This could and would explain why many service men, who although are no longer in missions, have never come home to their families.

Washington Post
November 10, 2011

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.

Unknown amounts of body parts have not had proper burials and instead have been thrown into a landfill in King George County, Virginia

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.

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.”

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.

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.

The Air Force disciplined three mortuary supervisors after an 18-month investigation, but has not fired any of them, despite calls from lawmakers and veterans’ groups for tougher action.

“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.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Tuesday commended the Air Force for the “thoroughness” of its investigation. His spokesman, George Little, said Wednesday that Panetta is leaving “open the possibility for further accountability” and that “there is no excuse for this kind of incident to occur.”

Under military culture and regulations, the armed services have a special obligation to care for fallen troops and their families. All troops killed overseas return to Dover in flag-draped transfer cases and are honored in what the military calls a “dignified transfer” ceremony.

Smith spent more than four years trying to find out what happened to her husband’s remaining body parts before she learned of the landfill disposal. Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Smith served more than 16 years in the Army and volunteered for dangerous duty defusing and destroying bombs in Iraq.

He was killed when stepped on a pressure plate that triggered a buried bomb.

Initially, Gari-Lynn Smith said she was led to believe that her husband’s entire body was returned for the funeral. When Dover officials told her that his body was too badly mangled for an open-casket funeral, she said she became worried that some of his remains had not been buried with the casket.

“I knew he was blown up and had amputated limbs, but I was not getting a straight answer from the Air Force about what had happened to his body,” Smith said.

She received her husband’s autopsy report in 2007 and learned that some remains had not been found in time to include in the casket.

Shortly after Scott Smith’s death, his parents had filled out a Defense Department form giving the Air Force permission to “make appropriate disposition” of any partial remains discovered after the body was buried, according to Pentagon records.

Gari-Lynn Smith said she believed that Dover officials would treat the remains with respect. The deceased soldier’s parents declined to comment.

In April, Trevor Dean, a senior official at the Dover mortuary, informed her in a letter that some of her husband’s body parts were cremated and dumped in a landfill in King George County. In the letter, Dean listed her husband’s first name incorrectly, an oversight that Smith saw as yet another sign of disregard for her spouse.

“This has been nothing but a nightmare,” she said.

Dean was formerly the top civilian deputy at the mortuary. The Air Force said he received a lower pay grade and voluntarily accepted a transfer to a lesser position in September as a result of separate allegations of mishandling of remains. He still works at Dover.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Dean declined to comment about the Smith case or the landfill practices. “We are pleased with the positive change in the program,” he said in reference to reforms the Air Force says it has implemented at the mortuary.

Relatives of other service members whose remains were mishandled at Dover said Wednesday that they were shocked to learn of the errors.

Stan McDowell, the father of Capt. Mark R. McDowell, who died in an F-15E fighter jet crash in Afghanistan in July 2009, said the Air Force informed him Saturday that it couldn’t account for a four-inch piece of flesh that may have belonged to his son.

“They were very apologetic, and it was all heartfelt,” Stan McDowell said. “We know Mark was a Christian, and that he’s in heaven. So we look at it like — okay, so maybe there are some remains that did not end up in his burial site. . . . That’s not really a concern to us. And the reason is: We know Mark is separated from his body, and that he’s in heaven.”

The Air Force said it was uncertain whether the missing piece of flesh belonged to McDowell or his friend, Air Force Capt. Thomas J. Gramith, who was killed in the same jet crash. The other remains of the two airmen are buried together, under the same headstone, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Patricia O’Kane-Trombley, Gramith’s mother, said she was assured by the Air Force’s promises to ensure that something like this never happens again. “I don’t like mix-ups. Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “If Tom were here, he’d say, ‘What can we do to make this better?’ ”



About Luis Miranda
The Real Agenda is an independent publication. It does not take money from Corporations, Foundations or Non-Governmental Organizations. It provides news reports in three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese to reach a larger group of readers. Our news are not guided by any ideological, political or religious interest, which allows us to keep our integrity towards the readers.

7 Responses to Shame: U.S. Military Dumped Bodies of Death Soldiers in Landfill

  1. Norman says:

    Ms Demello, sorry for your loss. 12 years? That’s quite a long time! Ask any of the multi-deployed vets about drugs, guns, money being shipped back to the U.S. from both Iraq & Afghanistan to this country in caskets, they will confirm it. The sad truth is, too much $money is involved in War, yet this country doesn’t seem to care, except for those & theirs who put their lives on the line. Bringing back the draft with no deferments like the Cheny’ s of the country received during the Vietnam era, or mandatory public service, would go a long way toward keeping the total public involved in this.

  2. kathy says:

    This is a disgrace to our family members they are treated like animals and numbers ! Isn’t it hard enough to lose a child like this much less to never have closure and to know that your child was treated like this after the sacrifices they make ! Makes me sick as hell !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Sallie Mabry says:

    I cannot believe all of this, The remains could have been placed in a mass grave with Head stone containing the names of military. This is ultimate disgrace, disrespect of our men and wemon whom gave their lives. I am so angry and damn mad. I don’t have children of my own in military, but I do have cousins children in Airforce. God be with all of you affected by this horrific dishonor.
    Can’t wait to find out what “idiot assholes” are responsible for this. I hope you all affected, fight this to the end! What the hell is happening to this country?

  4. Deborah m Demello says:

    We are still waiting for our sons remains. Please read pfc john Borero .this January will be 12 years for the Army to step up to the plate and return our sons remains. Mother of John Debbie Demello 425-413-9846

  5. Norman says:

    Being cynical here, perhaps those caskets also contained the $billions that are missing from all this corrupted War[s] the Bush/Cheney duo foisted on the U.S. Taxpayer, along with the $billions from the Opium production too.

    • News Desk says:

      Wow! Why didn’t I think about that? Actually, this is one of the ways laundered cash is transported: in caskets.

      • I wish this was the case regarding money. But we are speeking about our love ones. We have someone elses body that had flaming tatoos returns to us. I have legal papers and pictures. The Army and our president does not want to help they tell us that if we go public it will be a damino effect that all of the millatary will act on this matter. Well people OPEN your eyes. If this was their child we would be hearing about this for months on the news. But because we a just Americans that layed our life down so everyone can walk the street FREE we are put in a box and told to shut up. Well this mother will not and will continue to write and e-mail untill we are all heard. If you need to read another sad story go to PFC Lavena Johnson and you can read both stories. My sons and Lavena’s. Please help our family STOP this call the President and keep calling and writting. and keep this e-mail going. We must return every child and loved one home. mother of john Debbie Demello

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