Last month, the Washington Post reported that the United States Air Force, while overseeing the Dover Air Force Base mortuary that receives the bodies of troops killed overseas, had cremated and disposed some remains and sent them to a landfill in King George County, Virginia. At the time, neither military officials nor Post reporters could verify the number of body parts that had been handled in such a way.
But after combing through military and mortuary records, the Post found that partial remains of at least 274 dead American troops were sent to the landfill, and far more unidentifiable body parts were disposed of in the same manner:
This week, after The Post pressed for information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database, the Air Force produced a tally based on those records. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008.
An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.
Knowledge of the practices outraged families of fallen troops and the owners of the landfill, who told the Post they were “pulled in unknowingly” to the situation, and that they wouldn’t want “any part” of troops killed defending the country buried in the landfill.
The practice began at a time when there was little public oversight over the Dover mortuary. President George H.W. Bush banned news coverage of the return of deceased troops during the Gulf War in 1991, and the ban remained until 2009, when President Obama ended it. The first record of such a disposal, according to the Post, is from April 2004, and the Air Force decided to end the practice in 2008. It now buries cremated remains at sea.
Dover AFB was the subject of federal investigation after whistleblowers reported stories of lost body parts earlier this year. On November 8, investigators announced that they had uncovered “gross mismanagement” at the mortuary involving the handling of war dead, and similar scandals have haunted Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, where graves were misidentified and urns containing troop remains were improperly disposed of. That incident is now the subject of an FBI criminal investigation.