Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dover, Delaware: Locals react with mix of empathy, criticism to news of Dover Air Force Base’s handling of human remains

Residents of greater Dover generally agree that Dover Air Force Base can learn from the mistakes made in the handling of the remains of U.S. Troops.

They readily recognize that Dover Air Force Base is one the largest and most important employers in Kent County, ranking up there with the state of Delaware and the Capital and Caesar Rodney school districts.

So, they had a mixture of empathy and criticism when they heard the news that Dover Air Force base officials had gotten into trouble for losing some body parts of fallen U.S. troopers.

Dover Air Force Base’s mortuary receives the bodies of servicemen killed in battle and prepares them for burial. The mortuary was investigated after three whistleblowers, employees of the Air Force, came forward with claims of improper preparations of remains of a deceased Marine, improper handling and transport of possibly contagious remains and the failure to resolve cases of missing body parts in 2009.

On Tuesday, federal officials released scathing reports that described the “gross mismanagement” that led to missing body parts of two servicemen. The U.S. Air Force also reported that a bone on the arm of a U.S. Marine had been sawed off in order to fit him into his service uniform.

“It’s very sad, very sad,” Dover resident Rosemarie VanDorpe said after lunch on West Loockerman Street. “They do so much good. I hope this doesn’t overshadow the 99.9 percent of the good things they do.

“They’re a vital part of the community,” she said. “See to it that those responsible are reprimanded, and let’s put it behind us.”

Don Parks, also walking about on Loockerman Street, said he was irritated that the story was getting so much play in the media.

“If somebody was wrong, they’ve already been punished because this happened in 2009,” Parks said. “Why bring it up now if it’s already been taken care of, unless somebody has an ax to grind.

“Why did it hit the papers at all?” said Parks, whose daughter is in the Army and whose son is in the Navy. “The military has a way of taking care of issues of that – not that we’re trying to hide anything. When you look at how many bodies come through that base on a daily basis, they do a tremendous job out there 24-7.”

Dover resident Olga Morell, strolling with her dog at Silver Lake Park, said she could understand why the families of slain troops would be upset at the revelations.

“They’re young people that go out there for us, for freedom, to serve the country,” Morell said. “I only have one child and he was in the service. If anything had happened to him, I would have been devastated. He went to Germany for three years. Thank God he came back OK.”

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