Ugly War Stories: “No one can go to Dover and feel as though everything is right in the world “

I am not qualified to add anything here, but this is not to be missed. Chris Jones, in Esquire:

My visit to the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in late 2007, part of my research for the story “The Things That Carried Him,” was maybe the most haunting experience of my career. That long, low building looks vaguely like a shopping mall, but it was and is, essentially, a kind of reverse rendering plant. Thousands of bodies, many of them in pieces, pour through one door, and thousands of bodies come out another, now dressed in pressed uniforms, in caskets wrapped in flags.
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Now the Washington Post has revealed that between 2003 and 2008 — so, including the time I was there, including the time that the subject of my story, Sgt. Joey Montgomery, passed through Dover — mortuary officials burned some remains and dumped the ashes into landfills.
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Not surprisingly, the idea that America’s war dead had been tossed into garbage dumps has been met with anger and condemnation. There’s really no way to make the case that what happened at Dover was okay. It was not okay. It was a terrible mistake.
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But I understand how that mistake was made.
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There are no flawless factories. And despite the impossible work of many good people, despite the care that might have been taken however many steps along the way, despite the heavy symbolism and solemn salutes, Dover remains a factory. That might be a hard thing for people to accept, especially for the families of the men and women who have passed through there, but maybe it’s time we stopped measuring our words about these things. War leaves people dead, and it kills them in terrible ways, so that their bodies are hanging from trees or burned virtually to dust, and it’s a minor miracle that more mistakes have not been made in bringing them home. This story is just another reminder of how terrible this whole awful business is.

Read the whole thing.

30 replies
  1. 1
    Zifnab says:

    I’m curious to know how many people who get worked up over how we treat the dead gave a shit about them when we were sending them to their deaths to begin with.

  2. 2
    Svensker says:

    War leaves people dead, and it kills them in terrible ways, so that their bodies are hanging from trees or burned virtually to dust,

    And for no fucking reason for this war, either, except to give assholes like Bill Kristol a hard on and make rubes like my brother feel all patriotic and shit.

    Everybody’s all upset (rightly so) about the kids that Sandusky raped in Pennsylvania. Who the hell will get upset about the kids blown to bits in Iraq for fucking nothing?

  3. 3
    Joel says:

    Although I don’t think I’d have the heart of stomach to see them, I wish some brave soul released photos of what it’s like inside these places. It must be horrifying, grotesque, and sad. Just like war itself.

  4. 4
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I know this is a radical idea, but wouldn’t it be best to avoid horror stories like this by not launching totally optional wars of aggression?

    Just a thought.

  5. 5
    The Dangerman says:

    But I understand how that mistake was made. There are no flawless factories.

    The second sentence is factually correct and fatally flawed; there is no excuse and no level of understanding how these mistakes could be made.

  6. 6
    No One of Consequence says:

    That man tried to kill my Daddy.

    – NOoC

  7. 7
    smintheus says:

    There were many reasons why the Bush administration prohibited journalists from photographing the war dead. One is that there were so many of them. Another is that many came back in horrible tatters. Another is that these things might call in question his idiotic rush to war in Iraq.

  8. 8
  9. 9
    Mudge says:

    Esquire has all of a sudden become a top tier “go to” site. Excellent writers (especially Pierce unleashed), excellent topics. Someone is making some very good decisions there.

  10. 10
    Montysano says:

    @Svensker:

    And for no fucking reason for this war, either, except to give assholes like Bill Kristol a hard on and make rubes like my brother feel all patriotic and shit.

    There is that, and there is also profit. I live in the heart of the military/industrial complex, and there are people here who will say, without hesitation, “No, I don’t want these wars to end”. It’s a business, and since 2001, business has been booming.

  11. 11
    Punchy says:

    OT:

    Stong rumors/hints that the Sandusky Creep from Penn State pimped out young boys to wealthy donors. Word on the street. If true, that would likely completely obliterate the PSU football program, and all that donor money would be dirty and need to be jettisoned somehow.

    Shit’s way fucked up.

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    @Svensker: This country has a dangerously short memory. Iraq is too far in the past for us to collectively remember several times over.

  13. 13
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    I tried to read “The Things That Carried Him,” got to about page 6, and was crying too hard to go on. Not good at the office. I’m not even going to try to read this one – I’m just going to assume that the situation at Dover is as fucked up as the rest of this stupid war. I’d say that W, Rove, Cheney, and the rest of the slavering warmongers should have to spend the rest of their lives on their knees scraping fragments of soldiers up off the floor, except for the horrible disrespect that would show to the soldiers.

  14. 14
    Cermet says:

    @Svensker: I hear you – that is a point all these asswipe war supporters never bother to think (no surprise – most of them can’t think) about – the tens of thousands of children killed and the far larger number terribly injuried and the millions who suffered mental trama/damage from the horrors the U. S. of A.sswipes did to them by forcing them from their homes/safe lives, schools, friends and any chance of a ‘normal’ life. All because bush wanted to fu*k that dog faced mother of his just to prove he was better than his father.

  15. 15

    @Cermet: #14

    Hard core Freudian. Not that such an approach makes you wrong. And not that I disagree with you.

  16. 16
    BGinCHI says:

    They should make Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney, and the other neocons work a year’s worth of shifts there.

    Fuckers.

  17. 17
    Steve says:

    My dad was stationed at Dover AFB in the early 60s. People would always tell him how lucky he was that he never got sent to Vietnam. He would answer, “You’ve obviously never been to Delaware.”

  18. 18
    clone12 says:

    I finished “The Things That Carried Him”. It was one of the hardest things to for me to read through. Absolutely heartbreaking. All that, multiplied 4000+ times through for us, and 100,000+ times through for Iraq.

  19. 19
    trollhattan says:

    @Punchy:

    If that proves true, agreed–shut down the whole dang football program.

  20. 20
    Scamp Dog says:

    @Poopyman: Here’s an article about the couple in the picture. It’s not a happy story, exactly, (they would up getting divorced), but Ty Ziegel, the young Marine, seems to be doing alright, and is getting decent benefits from the VA.

  21. 21
    Svensker says:

    @Cermet:

    You’re right. I wasn’t even thinking about the Iraqi children, which I should have. I was thinking about the U.S. soldiers, who are mostly kids as far as I’m concerned. Just a shameful horrible waste all around.

  22. 22
    Wormtown says:

    Good post. thnx. My brother went to VIetnam, came home to Dover. People need to know about these things.

  23. 23
    Cassidy says:

    I think in the end, people do need some perspective on this. They were body parts. And I’ll be honest, when you’re working a humvee that’s been blown all to hell, it isn’t always easy to figure out which parts went where and with whom. You do the best you can.

  24. 24
    Mike G says:

    Not being able to identify and return every body part is understandable in these circumstances. Throwing the cremated remains in the trash is egregiously stupid.

    I can’t believe nobody stopped and said, isn’t there a better way we could be handling this? How much effort would it have been to take all the unreturnable cremated remains out to sea periodically?

  25. 25
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Mike G:

    Not being able to identify and return every body part is understandable in these circumstances. Throwing the cremated remains in the trash is egregiously stupid.

    Agreed. I understand needing to do something with, say, a stack of arms that can’t be matched up to any existing bodies, but at least handle them with some goddamned dignity after you cremate them.

    Not to mention that many states have laws about the disposal of human remains, including ashes. I know that here in California you can’t just scatter people’s ashes wherever you feel like it, and I’m pretty sure the city dump is one of those places you’re not allowed to dispose of them.

  26. 26
    Rome Again says:

    Sad that when my home state is in the news, it’s because of this kind of crap. :(

    @Steve: Delaware is not so bad north of the canal, or at the beaches.

  27. 27
    Ruckus says:

    @Cassidy:
    I agree. I’d bet the people at Dover are and have been doing the best that can be done in what must be a horrible job.

  28. 28
    wenchacha says:

    But, we are Number One!!! And, Go, Nittany Lions!!!!

    Fuckwits at Redstate will figure out a way to blame these atrocities on Lieberals and the Kenyan Usurper.

    Can we ever do better again? Or even for the first time?

  29. 29
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    @Steve: I read this comment four hours ago … it still haunts me.

  30. 30
    Vlad says:

    @clone12:

    I have no idea how many times I’ve read that story, but it still makes me cry every single goddamn time I do.

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