Analysis: The Scandal of the Air Force Dead

The mistreatment of the remains of 274 service members is the shame of the nation

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Dec 9, 2011  |  Updated 7:03 PM EDT
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NJ Widow Decries Dumped Soldier Remains

Sgt. First Class Scott Smith was killed by a roadside bomb in 2006.

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NJ Widow Decries Dumped Soldier Remains

After a New Jersey woman's inquiries into what happened to her soldier husband's body parts led to a massive exposure of the Air Force's practice of dumping soldier remains in a landfill, she is now pressing for more answers.
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For five years a New Jersey widow has been trying without success to find out what happened to her husband’s body.  Apparently the remains were cremated and then incinerated.  Why conduct the process twice?

The Air Force doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. Gari Lynn Smith of Frenchtown, New Jersey wants to know how that could happen to the remains of her husband, Sgt. First Class Scott Smith, killed by a roadside bomb in 2006. Now, the Washington Post reveals that the Air Force dumped the remains of 274 service members, including Smith, into a Virginia landfill.

When NBCNewYork  reporter Katie Tur asked Ms. Smith what she misses most about her husband, she grew teary as she said: “His smile. He was such a good person and he didn’t deserve this.”

Congressman Rush Holt, who has been pushing the issue along with Smith, praised her as “a woman of great courage.”
             
“For five years,” he told me, “she has tried to get the answers. And the Pentagon has failed to explain what happened. But she has persisted. And a Washington Post investigation revealed that the Air Force dumped the remains of 274 service members in a Virginia landfill.”
               
“This,” the congressman said, “is beyond belief. And I know she won’t give up her battle to find out the truth. I don’t think Congress will allow the Pentagon to get away with it.”
                 
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was comfortable with the way the Air Force handled the matter. But Holt said Panetta’s attitude was insult to injury.
                  
Ms. Smith realized that not all her husband’s remains were in his casket. “So,” she said, “I figured that maybe the additional remains were buried in Arlington Cemetery. So I started questioning and they had a gentleman on the phone tell me no one wanted my husband so they cremated him with the rest of the medical waste and threw him in the trash!”        
                      
Said the congressman: “This is an outrage and it’s not going away. We won’t stand for it. He pointed out that at least four people within the Air Force had tried to blow the whistle on what happened. They were ignored or treated harshly. The Air Force has acted as though this is a procedural matter. No one has expressed real sorrow that this ever happened. I think we’ll hear worse. This is not going away.
                      
“We owe it to the families. We owe it to all the living members of the Air Force to get to the bottom of it. “
                      
It is outrageous.  Panetta should be embarrassed. The White House and the President should do something about it before it becomes an issue in the presidential campaign.

America, the kids in the armed forces and their parents deserve better than this.

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