I’m mad. In fact, I’m furious. My parents and any number of friends and mentors have always advised me that you should never write or say something in anger because you’ll probably end up regretting it. I know after 43 years that admonition to be absolutely true, but as I write this, I know I won’t regret what I write or the anger I feel.
I just read the Washington Post’s latest story on the treatment of the remains of U.S. military service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Entitled, “Air Force dumped ashes of more troops’ remains in Va. landfill than acknowledged,” the article is one of those things that you read and say to your self, “What the hell were they thinking?”
If you aren’t enraged after reading the article, I honestly don’t know what to say to you.
The people who put it all on the line, put on the nation’s military colors, went into the worst of situations, and gave it body and soul for their country had portions of their remains dumped in a landfill. In case you’re confused, that is the exact same place where all of the stuff you put in a trash bag and at the curb once a week ends up.
This story is not new. The Post broke it wide open a few months back, courtesy of a courageous whistleblower and other federal investigations, but it’s mushrooming bigger now courtesy of the new numbers of service members whose remains were disrespected and disregarded.
What was originally thought to be a few dozen is now up to 274 people. The truth is, according to the article, the full number of desecrated remains may never be known given the reckless and absolute abhorrent conduct of the people at Dover Air Force Base who engaged in these actions.
The news on the treatment of America’s war dead was certainly bad enough when all of the mislabeled graves and other misconduct were discovered at Arlington National Cemetery a few years back. The criminal stupidity and incompetence in those cases were certainly heartbreaking and anger inducing but these latest reports from what happened at Dover are to me even more enraging.
We treated people – some of the absolute best of us – like they were trash, and there is no other way to accurately describe it. I’d like to think that by the time this entire investigation is over, there will be stars, stripes and other military decorations ranks removed from those who were complicit in these actions. I don’t really believe in the “I was just following orders defense” entitles them to the honor of keeping them. I’d also like to think there will be people fired, and if at all possible, prosecuted for what they did here as well.
While I can understand the practicalities, challenges and costs of matching up missing limbs with decedent remains, the courtesy, the honor and the practice of a common grave as final resting place for these remnants was absolutely in order.
It was an honor and practice afforded the remains from the crews of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia as well as other military members who were lost in this nation’s service as well as other countries.
Somehow that honor, that courtesy and that practice were lost upon some individuals at Dover, for reasons only they can explain to their lawyers, military service families, investigators and their Creator.
The thing that probably enrages me even more is that this nation took more care and courtesy with the remains of Osama Bin Laden and their final resting place than was accorded to at least 274 people that we know of. Talk about enraging…
On the same week we remember the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks and the more than two thousand people killed, many of whom never got any semblance of an individual grave other than the rusting hull of a shattered battleship, we read this story. We need to know all of the details about Dover’s ultimate betrayal of its honor code and final mission to those in its care, no matter how unsettling and enraging they may be.
Those facts will never undo the wrongs here, but I know of a landfill in Virginia that deserves a white marble headstone that should never, ever had to be put there, but now deserves one because of what it holds.