Air Force Admits Losing Remains At Dover Mortuary

The Air Force has disciplined three senior officials for "gross mismanagement" after the mortuary that receives America's war dead lost portions of human remains. Air Force officials have announced the results of a year-long investigation into allegations of improper handling of war remains at the Dover, Del. facility.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For service men and women killed in action overseas, it is Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, where they land as they return home. Yesterday, the Air Force announced the results of a year-long investigation into gruesome incidents at the military's mortuary at Dover. NPR's Tom Bowman has this report. And a warning: Some of it may be disturbing.

GENERAL NORTON SCHWARTZ: What I want to talk about is tough stuff...

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: That was General Norton Schwartz, the Air Force's top officer, speaking to reporters. And it was tough stuff indeed. General Schwartz detailed the incidents that came to light through whistleblowers at the Delaware Mortuary. In 2009, two separate incidents where body parts of servicemen killed in active duty were lost by the Air Force mortuary. And in 2010, mortuary workers sawed off the arm of a dead U.S. Marine so he could fit in his uniform and then placed in his casket. General Schwartz says that three supervisors at the mortuary were disciplined.

SCHWARTZ: You should have no doubt about how seriously we took the allegations.

BOWMAN: But no one was fired, and the general said because there were mistakes made and not what he called deliberate acts. The Air Force only notified the families this past weekend. That's because, General Schwartz said, he was constrained by the Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal office that handles whistleblowers, which issued its report yesterday.

SCHWARTZ: We waited until it was clear that the Office of Special Counsel was going to render their report. We got 48 hours' notice, and we acted upon that notice.

CAROLYN LERNER: That's patently false.

BOWMAN: Carolyn Lerner is the special counsel. She says her office urged Air Force lawyers back in March to talk with the families, and they did so again recently.

LERNER: We asked them again, why hadn't you notified them? Their response was that these families, some of them had blogs; they couldn't be trusted - that they might go to the media.

BOWMAN: The special counsel's report, which is now with the White House and Capitol Hill, says the Air Force is still unwilling to acknowledge culpability. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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