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Most of my articles for this site take a positive approach to issues concerning our veterans. Even in the tough articles about fallen heroes I try to bring out what lifts us up, rather than the things that are negative. But the news out of Dover Air Force Base this month has really caught me up short.
According to a variety of news sources, it has recently come out that some of the cremated remains of some 274 of our fallen heroes were unceremoniously disposed of in a landfill in Delaware. According to the most recent Washington Post article, citing the Air Force, "1,762 remains--which could not undergo DNA testing because they were badly damaged or burned--were also disposed of in this manner." These procedures, according to the Post article, "were not formally authorized or disclosed to senior Pentagon officials." Nor were they disclosed to family members.
Dover Air Force Base is where all of our heroes who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan are repatriated to home soil. We've all watched the televised, respectful ceremonies from Dover Air Force Base with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in their dress uniforms carrying the flag-draped coffins off of the big C-130's that bring them home to us. We've all shed tears at the sight of it in sympathy with the fallen and their families. We've seen presidents standing beside the planes, their right hands smartly held over their hearts, solemnly saluting the warriors' sad return. We've seen them taking time with the families. We've taken a certain pride in the ceremonial honorifics, the smart uniformed servicemen, their white gloves grasping the coffin bars, their slow, solemn march with the coffin beautifully draped with the Stars and Stripes, every movement, every visual thoughtfully precise. Its silent unfolding always speaks so eloquently of our respect for those who have died in service to the country.
But this news about what has happened to some of the remains of our warriors overwhelms us with grief and anger. How could this have happened? The thought of what has been done hurts all of us. But the families of the fallen must be hurt beyond the speaking of it.
Things happen. Mistakes get made. But this kind of mistake strikes at the very soul of our national pride. Paul Riekoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said on a recent CNN report, "This is inexcusable. It needs to be investigated." High ranking officials are said to be "speechless" about this revelation. Over 6,300 of our servicemen and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years since 9/11, all of them coming home through Dover. Riekoff went on to say that, "This can't just be a blip on the news cycle. We have a solemn duty to honor our veterans' service. We have a duty to their families." We at The Veterans Site agree. This must never be allowed to happen again.
The Central Joint Mortuary Affairs Board has put out a statement that such remains are now buried at sea with honors. We might ask why was this not the case before? It is our hope that the families are notified of this as well when such a need arises related to their family members who have died as a result of their service in a war zone.
Veterans deserve our highest respect. Those who have died must be treated with the highest of honors. Nothing less will do.