How the Military deals with the Fallen Heroes from the current Global War On Terror, has been an ongoing debate for a few years now. An investigation was called for, and launched, after it came to light that Arlington National Cemetary - supposedly a most sacred and hallowed final resting place of our Fallen Heroes - had been inappropriately and disrespectfully handling the remains.
In February this year nbc reported:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formed the task force in December after an investigation by the Air Force, which runs the facility, found that some remains of U.S. military personnel weren't handled "in accordance with procedures."
The Air Force acknowledged that it had disposed of the incinerated remains of at least 274 service members in the landfill before it ended the practice in 2008. At the time, officials said records went back only to 2003.
But the independent panel found that the practice went back at least to 2001, and it discovered that "several portions of remains" recovered from the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon and at Shanksville, Pa., also ended up in a landfill:
Prior to 2008, portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified, and portions of remains later identified that the [family or other representative] requested not to be notified of (requesting that they be appropriately disposed of) were cremated under contract at a civilian crematory and returned to [Dover]. This policy began shortly after September 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified.
These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them. The assumption on the part of [Dover] was that after final incineration nothing remained. A [Dover] management query found that there was some residual material following incineration and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement.
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said they hadn't yet had a chance to review the entire report. ...
Read the rest here.
While the focus of that news story is 9/11, it also talks of the Military remains since 9/11. It is now documented that almost 300 Fallen Heroes remains of the GWOT were not handled in the proscribed way.
Gold Star Families have been fighting the US Department of Defense for many years, and one Gold Star Wife leading that fight has been Gari-Lynn Smith. What she has gone through, and the DoD response to her, is no less than mind-boggling.
Last Sunday was yet another step in this Gold Star Wife's determination to honour her husband's sacrifice:
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
King George—On Sunday, what could have been mistaken for a White House Rose Garden event, complete with a podium, notable guests flanked by a speaker system, a band, American flags, 80 white chairs for special guests, a line of news cameras, reporters and photographers and hundreds of standing audience members, was in actuality a memorial. However, unlike the meticulously executed memorial services Americans have come to expect for fallen Iraq and Afghanistan American service members, this ceremony lacked the support of the United States Department of Defense. The memorial was held at the King George Landfill where hundreds of service members’ remains were dumped after being incinerated by a Department of Defense contractor as “medical waste.”The memorial service, which was spearheaded by Ruby Brabo, Dahlgren member of the King George Board of Supervisors, who is the wife of an active-duty Army soldier, took place after months of debate among the King George Board of Supervisors. Brabo faced opposition from some of her fellow board members; specifically Joseph W. Grzeika and Dale W. Sisson, Jr., who, along with some King George County citizens, did not believe placing a memorial at the landfill would be appropriate.However during a Board of Supervisors meeting in the spring, Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of Army Sergeant First Class Scott R. Smith, and Dr. Richard Lorey, a Navy veteran who worked as a physicist at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren joined forces. Smith, who discovered the DoD scandal and attempted cover-up wrote a letter that Lorey read to the entire board in which she explained that she and other Gold Star Families—those military families who have lost a loved one in combat—needed the memorial to be close to where the remains were and not at the King George County Courthouse as some had suggested. At that time, although reluctant, the board members who were opposed to the memorial voted with Brabo to unanimously agree that a memorial should be erected where the remains lay.[...]Gari-Lynn Smith uncovered the scandal that rocked the Department of Defense and led to the Pentagon having to admit to the inappropriate disposal of remains of killed service men and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan upon their return to American soil at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Dover Air Force Base serves as the country’s primary point of return for military members killed overseas.Smith’s husband was an explosives ordinance technician whose job it was to dismantle improvised explosive devices—one of which ultimately exploded—killing Sergeant 1st Class Smith on July 17, 2006.“When I found out that my Scott had been killed,” Smith said, “once I got past the shock and despair, I wanted to know what exactly happened.”She said that she knew something was awry when, she says the Department of Defense wouldn’t give her any clear answers. In countless e-mails Smiths shared with The Journal it’s evident that DoD officials were not being forthright or forthcoming with Smith.“At one point I was told he had died four hours before he even went on the mission,” she said angrily with a quiver in her voice during a private tour of the quiet, scenic field where Waste Management officials believe her late husband’s remains would likely be....
There is much more here, and it IS a must-read.
I have to believe that all in the Military whose mandate it is to care for, and handle the precious remains of our returning Fallen Heroes do so with the best will in the world. However, when even one Gold Star Wife or Gold Star Family has to go through what Gari-Lynn Smith has had to endure, seems to me there is something very wrong with a system whose reason for being is to pay due honour to our Fallen and their families.
I KNOW the US Military can do better.
I KNOW the US Military can do better.