I have always had the opinion that the U.S. Air Force (U.S.A.F.) is the brain behind the military. And airmen and airwomen look smart and classy in their dress blues, particularly when the left breast is adorned with a matrix of colorful accommodation ribbons and shiny medals.
But recent reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal call into question the “unreasonable” lack of care with which officials at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware have handled the remains of American servicemen and servicewomen who have succumbed to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to an 18-month U.S. Air Force investigation, officials in charge at Dover Port Mortuary, the largest mortuary in the country, grossly mishandled the severed remains of American servicepersons killed in action.
Apparently, the report detailed instances of gruesome misconduct on the part of the mortuary employees, who on several occasions “sawed off body parts”, and sometimes lost body parts of fallen heroes.
Additionally, the report indicated that U.S.A.F. officials, Colonel Robert H. Edmondson and his deputy, Trevor Dean, as well as the mortuary director, Quinton R. Keel, authorized partial remains cremated, then “dumped” in a Virginia landfill.
At first glance, it appears the practice of the mortuary employees and U.S.A.F. officials was blasphemous. Especially when the 18-month investigation concludes the actions unsavory.
However, after a little more consideration, the alternatives of the officials at the Dover mortuary are few. They were under severe pressure due to unrelenting budget and staff cuts, or, as in a couple cases cited in the report, families requested their fallen family member delivered to them in uniform.
While most of us are fortunate to not come face-to-face with the carnage of war, one can imagine that the remains of the dead are severely disfigured and probably bloated to the point the deceased no longer fits in their uniforms.
Furthermore, the many articles written about these findings indicated the mortuary employees were given the go-ahead to remove body parts so the servicemember could fit in their uniforms without protruding parts. Reporters also noted that on many occasions, the next of kin refused the partial remains after the official burial of the serviceperson.
Instead of using inflammatory phrases like, “dumping remains in a landfill” and “sawed off the body parts”, perhaps the reporters could have used, “buried the unclaimed remains in a mass grave” or “removed protruding body parts so the families could see their loved-one as close to how they remembered him/her before the fatal deployment.”
Although the report found there to be negligence on the part of the morticians and U.S.A.F. officials in charge, and an attempt to cover-up the “mishandling of the remains”, it does not appear the remains were maliciously desecrated, which of course would be criminal, immoral and unpatriotic.
At any rate, before leaving his post as commander of the Dover AFB mortuary, Colonel Edmondson implemented a change to the practice of burying the unclaimed remains in the Virginia landfill to burying the ashes in an urn at sea, for which he should be commended: He managed to find a solution to an inflammatory semblance.
Article Tags: Colonel Robert H. Edmondson, Dover Air Force Base, Dover Port Mortuary, Quinton R Keel, Resting Place Of The Brave, Trevor Dean, Troop Remains, YaVaughnie Wilkins