THE BLOG
12/09/2011 05:45 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2012

No Way to Treat the Remains of Our Fallen Troops

Throughout the earlier years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- and before then -- our government had the policy of not allowing the American people to see images of the flag-draped coffins, our fallen heroes, arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the first contact with U.S. soil since leaving foreign battlefields.

When Obama became president, there were numerous calls -- including from this author -- for the policy to be reversed so the American people could see the full human cost of war and properly honor the fallen.

On Feb. 26, 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a new policy consistent with what we had at Arlington National Cemetery, which allows the family to decide whether to allow media coverage.

Finally, on April 5, 2009, the Defense Department implemented the policy. The new policy permitted the media to attend "dignified transfer" ceremonies with permission from the families and to pay the expenses of up to three relatives of a fallen hero to travel to Dover to watch their loved one come back home.

But there was still apprehension and criticism on the part of many organizations and individuals, fearing that media access and publicity would diminish the solemnity and dignity of the occasion.

In "A Fallen Hero Returns for All to See and Honor," I wrote how those concerns were tested when the first fallen hero was welcomed home publicly under the new policy.

The fallen hero was Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip A. Myers who was killed by a makeshift bomb in Afghanistan.

The fallen hero's family was there to welcome him home, along with about two dozen members of the media.

The ceremony was somber, solemn and dignified. It was broadcast on most networks. I watched it. It was moving. It was appropriate.

Since the policies took effect, nothing but complimentary reports have been published on these "dignified transfers," nothing but praise has been heaped on the men and women of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and nothing but admiration has been expressed for "the noble work being" done by those members.

One can thus imagine my shock when I started hearing and reading about how the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary is alleged to have handled the remains of some of our service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I am so disheartened that I will not go into the details of how body parts and body fragments of some of our returning heroes were handled under procedures that were in place between November 2003 and May 1, 2008.

According to CNN, the Air Force has said that hat such practices were discontinued, "changed," in 2008 and it is apologizing: "We regret any additional grief to the families past practices may have caused," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, deputy Air Force chief of staff.

It is my hope that those practices indeed stopped in 2008, and that the work done by members of the Dover Mortuary since then has truly been deserving of the praise that I and others have bestowed upon them and upon what must always be a "dignified and solemn process."