Dover Dumped Hundreds of Soldiers’ Remains in Landfill

June 8, 2011: The coffins of four U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq arrive at Dover Air Force Base. PHOTO CREDIT: Jose Luis Magana/AP

The remains of more than 6,300 troops have passed through the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary since 2001 according to a story in the Washington Post.

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.

You can read the full Washington Post story by and HERE.

However, Whitlock told NPR’s Morning Edition Thursday that there may be more cases because the practice has gone on for years, only ending in 2008.

As Whitlock said, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in combat where “a lot of people are killed by bombs or die in explosions” that shatter bodies. “In many cases,” he said, “what happens is the morgue at Dover isn’t able to identify all the remains until after a funeral or until a body is returned to a family” — meaning that some body parts have remained behind at the morgue.

“What happened in these cases,” Whitlock said, “is the families had signed paperwork asking the military to dispose of these subsequent remains in a dignified manner. … The Air Force would have them cremated … and then have the ashes taken to a landfill. The families were never told about this.”

Some remains that were never identified were also disposed of in the landfill.

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Former CENTCOM Leader to Head Dover Port Mortuary Panel

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command, on Aug. 21, 2003. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.

Retired Army Gen. John Abizaid will chair the panel overseeing the Dover port mortuary, according to Pentagon officials.

Abizaid is replacing former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, who stepped down so he could run for Senate.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked Abizaid to step in. Abizaid has 34 years service in the Army and is the former commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

The Dover port mortuary review panel is charged with evaluating the efficacy of changes already made to procedures at Dover and to make recommendations for  additional changes if  required. The panel was formed after civilian whistle-blowers complained about how the remains of some fallen warriors were mishandled.

Abizaid will follow the same timeline laid out Nov. 8 for the original panel to report back within 60 days. You can read more about the review panel HERE.

Dover Mortuary: Panetta Sets Up Independent Review

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has called for two reviews into reports of U.S. Forces remains returned from Iraq and Afghanistan being mishandled and cases mismanaged at the Dover Air Base mortuary.

Panetta learned of the problems at the Dover Mortuary shortly after taking office in July. The secretary has directed an independent review of the situation. (American Forces Press Service)

He also wants a review of a report on the mortuary by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel with attention to possible management reprisals against Dover Mortuary employees who reported the irregularities.

The details of mismanagement at the Dover Mortuary are wrenching especially for the families of the fallen like Marine Sgt. Daniel M. Angus, 28, who had been blown apart by a bomb in Afghanistan. His parents live in Thonotosassa, Florida. A Washington Post article details his case:

The military, it turned out, had kept a painful secret. Before the funeral, while embalmers were preparing what was left of Angus’s shattered body at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, they had trouble fitting him into a dress uniform. The heat of the explosion had fused his upper left arm bone at an awkward angle. Without asking his parents’ permission, the embalmers sawed it off, pinning a sleeve over the stump.

You can read the full story by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post  HERE.

Panetta’s independent panel named to investigate the Dover Mortuary current operations and procedures:

  • Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General
  • Retired Army Gen. Fred Franks, a member of DOD’s health board
  • Ruth Stonecifer, representative of families supported by the Dover Port Mortuary
  • Congressman Vic Snyder, a doctor and former Democratic U.S. representative from Arkansas
  • Garold Huey, a funeral director and embalmer who served in the Navy as enlisted member-embalming technician
  • Jacquelyn Taylor, executive director of the New England Institute and an internationally recognized leader in funeral service education
  • Dr. Bruce Parks, a forensic pathologist.
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