Be advised: This post is NOT for the faint of heart.
Unimagineable Horror for Father of Fallen Marine
What follows is a guest post from Mike Warner, uncle to a fallen Marine whose body was disinterred to verify that it was buried in the right place.
Imagine Doing This
AOCS, USN Ret.
On September 15, 2010 at around 0800 in the morning, a family makes their way into Arlington National Cemetery for the Disinterment of a Marine Private killed by an IED in Al Anbar Province Iraq on 22 November 2006 killing him and two others.
As they stood at the grave site, a forklift arrives to raise a coffin from the vault that had interred it for nearly four years. Arlington knew at this point that the vault and coffin had been opened. When the family became aware of this action, an unsettling air of distrust settled upon the gathering. The father yells “you lied” as family members hold and calm him. The father already marred and angry by the uncooperative atmosphere and insensitivity of Arlington’s leadership; his grief now changes to anger. Another promise broken! Arlington, to seemingly cover their asses had breached the coffin the night before to ensure the Marine Private and the dog tags were in the assigned plot.
With a rotting corpse and the putrid stench of death permeating the air, a worker removes a dog tag from the coffin lid, wipes off the dirt, and hands it to the father. The forklift begins to raise the coffin; putrid water begins streaming out and those in attendance gasp as the fear of body parts falling from the unstable casket grips them.
Once removed, the coffin is lowered onto the bed of a truck and driven to a maintenance building where the verification process is to be held. In attendance inside were the father, a fellow Marine and friend of the Private who was to verify the remains, a Colonel, a Catholic Priest (arriving later), a Funeral Director, and some cemetery workers.
The father was already grieving and reeling from yet another confrontation with Arlington personnel the day before. He demanded and Arlington agreed the vault inside the grave would not be opened until he arrived the morning of the 15th. The father apprehensive about the day’s events was anxious if they would find his son inside. He fumed from yet another breach of trust. The father rejects the dog tags offered to him as verification by Arlington. The dog tags may have been sufficient had the integrity of the coffin not been breached. However, since it had been prior to the family’s arrival; the father then requested visual verification. The staff at Arlington appeared unprepared for what was to come next, thus tipping the father’s hand.
His adrenalin already maxed and because of Arlington’s ineptness, the father instinctively jumps onto the truck in his dress clothes despite the rancid odor. The father begins digging through the water soaked; stench filled rotting dismembered remains of his son, in search of the severed arm with a tattoo on it. Meanwhile the Funeral Director is standing to the side, gagging. The father looks at the Funeral Director and tells him, “Get over here and do your job!”
Arlington’s assistance during this time consisted of providing him with latex gloves. The father removes his rancid dress gloves used in digging through the soupy carnage and discards them in the trash. He also removes his jacket, hat and sunglasses, and continues to search for the missing arm. This arm with the tattoo would positively confirm that the unrecognizable severely decomposed corpse was his son’s. The father still searching as he inhales the pungent stench of rotting flesh discovers for the first time since his son’s death, that only a torso, arm, and leg were there.
Finally, after frantically searching the carnage, the arm is found under the torso with the tattoo mostly intact. The father in a gesture of love carefully and gently wipes away the dirt. He verifies his son. The veil of doubt is lifted. His son now placed in a new casket, the family looks on as the Private is reinterred, and now all are at peace.
This is not fiction! Arlington’s negligence is at fault and they had pushed a father past the point of no return, and further due to their action added to their list of failures. Some have stated that the father is demented, paranoid, irrational, delusional, or created this, or him and his family just pretend this reality doesn’t exist, or hey, forget about it because it does not change the fact the guy is dead. Even if the hater’s assumptions are right (which they are not) it does not change the fact that Arlington FAILED. Arlington created too much doubt and an air of distrust to believe them. Some families want to know and deserve to know, without a lingering doubt.
Grieving families need protected as they are vulnerable, and Arlington failed to lead and protect this family by not having procedures in place to prevent families from such extremes, which in this case, resulted in a situation such as what you just read. Arlington’s systemic failures have lead to the desecration of a national symbol’s dignity and honor.
Why are these families engaging in conflict with Arlington? Well let’s see, maybe because there is no plan, and without a plan there is chaos? I have heard mentioned by officials and others there is no precedent for this. Then why didn’t they put their collective heads and talents together and think through the process before they disinterred the first? Why you ponder? Maybe because it is government, and usually its leadership does not address an issue until something goes wrong and then relies on a “knee jerk reaction” and of course, not to mention, they count on the Americans’ short attention span, and fast news cycles. We can do better.
***This needs done now, not in months***
• Arlington owes these families Honor, Dignity, Respect, Sensitivity, and Compassion. Core values Arlington should adopt.
• There must be an immediate cessation of exhumations at Arlington, until a clearly defined protocol is in place which protects the families and further preserves the honor and dignity of our fallen, and the future of Arlington’s legacy as well.
• An immediate investigation into the factors which resulted in the catastrophic failure of 15 September 2010. This was completely avoidable on many levels.
• Replace Leadership with individuals capable of understanding the dynamics of the current crisis and provide appropriate training. The Army may have the right person, but at the wrong time.
• Standards that are step by step – from the time contact with Arlington is made until reinterment is completed. This shall include family planning meetings (as necessary) with Arlington on what to expect. Even a check sheet of available options. No fighting required!
• Families hire forensic experts to act as surrogates on their behalf (as necessary). At Arlington’s expense. No family is to engage in forensic actions under any circumstance. Someone needs to tell them NO! This is part of Arlington’s leadership role, and they failed. This is unsanitary, infectious, and may spread disease, not to mention the psychological impact.
• Families’ right to choose DNA analysis (as necessary) at Arlington’s expense, until these problems are corrected.
• Utilize Casualty Assistance Offices to interface with families until reinterment.
• That any and all action taken by the US Army or Arlington National Cemetery is open to the scrutiny of the media if requested by the family (to include photography/video as necessary). This would seem to be a mechanism to provide “peace of mind” to the families affected to keep Arlington’s results honest and transparent. Until all discrepancies with Arlington are resolved.
• At Arlington’s expense, provide a licensed, bonded and insured independent entity representing each family. It shall be unaffiliated with the US Army and Arlington National Cemetery. This entity shall be present from the moment the earth is breached. It shall validate non-tampering, ensure continuity of the remains, and to remove all doubt that US Army and Arlington personnel maligned the circumstance or results.
Read about the Arlington Scandal and get educated. We as civilized people should defend the integrity of our fallen warriors’ final interment. Our voices will help assure this does not happen to another grieving family verifying the final resting place of a loved one in a process gone awry.