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Remains of U.S. troops dumped in landfill

NEED TO KNOW
  • Almost 300 troops' remains were left in Virginia landfill
  • Defense Secretary promised a thorough investigation of the Air Force mortuary
Remains of U.S. troops dumped in landfill

The Air Force dumped the remains of at least 274 U.S. troops in a Virginia landfill, a significant increase in the number initially acknowledged by the military, according to the Washington Post.

The news comes a month after it was disclosed that the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, the main entry point for America’s war dead, disposed of portions of fallen troops’ bodies by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a landfill from 2003 to 2008.

The practice has since been discontinued in favor of sea burial, Air Force officials told the Post.

The latest revelations come after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised a thorough investigation into allegations of mismanagement at the Air Force mortuary.

Panetta said he had been told of the mortuary problems shortly after he took over at the Pentagon in July, but was unaware of criticism that the Air Force had only recently informed military families of the problems. "My impression was that the families were alerted to that earlier," Panetta said in November when a questioner told him families were only alerted recently. He promised he would check in to the issue.

Watch: Panetta: Dover’s sacred responsibility

Specifics about the disposal of remains weren't disclosed to families of fallen soldiers. They had only given the military permission to get rid of the remains in a "dignified and honorable way," the Post reported.

Military officials have no plans to alert the families now, the Post said, especially after the newspaper tracked down a military wife whose husband’s body parts were thrown in the landfill after his 2006 death in Iraq.

"My only peace of mind in losing my husband was that he was taken to Dover and that he was handled with dignity, love, respect and honor," Gari-Lynn Smith told the Post last month. "That was completely shattered for me when I was told that he was thrown in the trash."

Smith told the Post she got an email in July from the mortuary's director, saying that incinerated remains had been taken to landfills at least since he began working at Dover in 1996.

Pentagon officials are set to respond to the story Thursday afternoon.

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