Stars & Stripes: Review Of Embalming Procedure in Iraq
I really can't fathom what it must be like for the families of our U.S. service men and women to lose their loved ones in Iraq, then have to deal with the bodies returned home and classified as "non-viewable." With all the billions of dollars being spent on everything associated with the Iraq war, I would expect our military fully capable of properly embalming dead soldiers, but that doesn't appear to be happening.
According to a story in today's Stars & Stripes, the Senate passed a measure forcing the Pentagon to review how it embalms soldiers killed in war zones:
Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia said they were compelled to act after hearing one family’s story about their son, 21-year-old Georgia Guardsman Spc. Paul Saylor, who drowned Aug. 15, 2005, when his Humvee ran off a road and toppled into a canal.
Although Saylor’s body was flown from Iraq to Dover Air Force Base, Del., embalmed there, and then flown home to Bremen in just three days, his body was so decomposed that the Army deemed him “non-viewable.”
Bill Hightower, a funeral director and a family friend, said there was only one way to recognize the child he had watched grow into a man.
“I recognized his nose,” Hightower told. “Just his nose.” [...]
But when Paul’s casket arrived at the airport, the family learned that the Army had deemed him “non-viewable.”
“They said he had a head injury,” Patti said.
“At no time did they mention” his true condition, she said.
Patti said she still hoped that she could see her child one last time, even if the casket would have to be closed during his funeral. [...]
Hightower did not detail what he saw except to say, “if they embalmed him, they used dishwater.”
“I was disgusted,” he said. “Angry, and totally disgusted. I was unable to do anything for this family.” [...]
In Iraq, servicemembers who die are placed in body bags, covered with ice-filled plastic bags and moved as quickly as possible from their bases, usually by helicopter, to one of about a dozen or so small “collection points,” each of which is staffed with a half-dozen Army mortuary affairs soldiers, according to the Army Quartermaster’s professional bulletin from winter 2004.
Of the more than 2,400 servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 584 have been listed as “non-viewable” for a variety of reasons, Dover spokeswoman, Air Force Lt. Col. Cheryl Law said.
But even with the intense summer heat in both countries, subsequent decomposition is relatively rare: About 39 servicemembers who have died in the Middle East, “or about 2 percent,” have been listed as decomposed, he said.
For Patti Saylor, “the point is, one’s too many.”
“We had mortuaries in the ’70s in Vietnam,” Saylor said. “This is 2006. There’s no excuse they can give me that they can’t do a better job.”
It’s not the soldiers “on the line” who are at fault, she said repeatedly. “We know the soldiers over there did all they could for Paul. They just didn’t have the equipment.” [...]
At the end of April, another story about Paul Saylor's death appeared in the Gwinnett Daily Post, providing more details about this tragic situation:
Even though her son died in a canal, his body wasn’t washed until it arrived at Dover Air Force Base.
While the family members of two soldiers who died alongside Paul Saylor were able to view their loved one’s body, Saylor’s body couldn’t even be put into a uniform.
“You’ll always wonder, is it really him?” Patti Saylor said. “It would have meant a lot. We hugged the casket. That’s all we had.”
My heart goes out to the Saylor family of Georgia over the loss of their son Paul.