WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has, since 2001, cremated some of the remains of American service members killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in a Delaware facility that also cremates pets, a practice that ended Friday when the Pentagon banned the arrangement.
The facility, located in an industrial park near Dover Air Force Base, has cremated about 200 service members, manager David A. Bose estimated Friday night. It uses separate crematories a few feet apart to cremate humans and animals, he added.
The Pentagon will no longer permit crematories not located with funeral homes to handle the remains of U.S. troops, defense officials said Friday night.
Pentagon officials said they do not think any humans were cremated in the pet crematory. “We have absolutely no evidence whatsoever at this point that any human remains were at all ever mistreated,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said at a news conference hastily convened Friday night.
Officials said they do not know the number of service members cremated at the Kent County facility, which is identified on a billboard as Friends Forever Pet Cremation Service.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates found “the site and signage insensitive and entirely inappropriate for the dignified treatment of our fallen,” Morrell said. “The families of the fallen have the secretary’s deepest apology,” he said.
“The secretary believes that it is inappropriate, even if though permissible under the rules and regulations, to cremate our fallen, our heroes, in a facility that also cremates pets,” he added.
The revelation came to light when an Army officer who works at the Pentagon traveled to Delaware on Thursday to attend the cremation of a military comrade. Offended to discover that the facility was labeled as a pet crematory, the officer sent an e-mail late Thursday night to superiors at the Pentagon that included a photograph of the signage.
It soon rocketed to the attention of Gates, who directed David S.C. Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to conduct “a comprehensive review of existing DOD policies and practices governing the cremation and handling of remains of U.S. service members,” Morrell said.
Bose said the Army officer “got in a huff because he saw the sign and went back and really stirred up the pot.” The officer attended the cremation because no relatives of the deceased soldier were present, Bose said, adding that the officer left without speaking to him or asking any questions.
Bose said that his company owns one pet crematory that is square and too small for most humans, who are cremated in two larger, rectangular crematories in the same room. He was adamant that there had “not been any people gone through the pet crematory.”
“We just don’t do that,” he said.
The Air Force has no crematory facility at Dover Air Force Base, where the Dover port mortuary handles the remains of all U.S. service members who die overseas. As a result, in 2001 Air Force officials contracted with two local funeral homes to perform cremations, including Torbert Funeral Chapels and Crematories, which oversees the facility managed by Bose, and another crematory located with a funeral home.
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne directed Friday that the service “cease using the off-site crematory, use only crematory facilities that are co-located with licensed funeral homes, and have a military presence during the off-base process at the funeral home facilities,” Morrell said.