US & Canada

Dover Air Base dumped 274 US troop remains at landfill

The remains of a US soldier arrive at Dover Air Force Base on 12 November 2011
Image caption The disposals took place when the mortuary was shielded from public scrutiny

Incinerated partial remains of at least 274 troops were reportedly dumped at landfill between 2004-08 by the largest military mortuary in the US.

The Washington Post report was based on data from Dover Air Force Base, the main entry port for US war dead.

The newspaper first broke the story last month, but it was not known how many remains were dumped at landfill.

Families, who had agreed for the remains to be disposed of respectfully, were unaware of the practice.

Pentagon officials did not authorise the procedure, which was reported by whistleblowers.

Air Force officials, who have denied a cover-up, said last month they could not estimate the precise number of casualties' remains sent to the Virginia landfill.


They said a precise count would require trawling the records of 6,300 troops whose remains had passed through Dover since 2001.

But the Washington Post reported on Thursday that Air Force data between 2004-08 showed 976 fragments from 274 military personnel had been taken to the dump after being cremated.

Another 1,762 remains - which did not undergo DNA testing because they were too badly damaged - were disposed of in the same manner, according to the newspaper.

Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of an Army bomb-disposal expert killed in Iraq, began asking the military in 2007 what happened to some of his remains that were identified after his funeral the previous year.

After four years of letters and phone calls she received a letter from the mortuary in April informing her that her husband's partial remains had been disposed of in the King George County landfill, reports the Post.

"I hope this information brings some comfort to you during your time of loss," read the letter.

Ms Smith told the Post that what the mortuary had done was "disgusting".

Since the landfill dumping ended three years ago, such cremated partial remains are now buried at sea.

After the Post reported the practice in early November, federal investigators released a report lambasting "gross mismanagement" at the air base mortuary.

It emerged that a dead soldier's ankle had been lost and a damaged arm bone was sawed off a dead Marine before burial so he could fit in his uniform and coffin.

The commander at the morgue, a colonel and two civilian officials were disciplined.

The three whistleblowers, James Parsons, Mary Ellen Spera and William Zwicharowski, told the Associated Press they had faced retaliation for reporting the incidents.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered a special review of the base's operations.

The procedures took place at a time when the mortuary was shielded from public scrutiny because media coverage of fallen troops' return to the air base was banned between 1991-2009.

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