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Bronze plaque to honor war dead to go at landfill

A bronze plaque with a short dignified message will be placed at the King George Landfill as an onsite memorial to honor the war dead whose cremated body parts were treated as waste by officials at Dover Air Force Base’s Port Mortuary.

Richard Lorey, King George resident and a military veteran and member of American Legion Post 89, last week requested and received approval from the Board of Supervisors for the bronze plaque memorial to be placed near the entrance to the landfill, with a date for the installation yet to be set. 

The plaque’s wording will be all in capital letters and will read:

“For honor, respect and in memory of those American service members known but to God, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We are ever grateful. The citizens of King George County and a grateful nation.”

It was widely reported last November, beginning in national news stories, after the Air Force had announced that three officials at the Dover Port Mortuary had been found responsible and disciplined for “gross mismanagement” at the facility because between 2003 and 2008 some cremated body parts of war dead were treated as waste and ended up in the King George landfill. 

In his presentation to the Board of Supervisors on July 17, Lorey made an impassioned plea to the board including his reading of a letter from service widow Gari-Lynn Smith who helped uncover the scandal. 

Lorey began his remarks, saying, “Nobody in King George, the rest of Virginia or the country believes that any King George resident or business bears any responsibility for what Dover Air Force base did.”

He added, “We know we cannot undo what has been done, but the idea that remains are no more than medical waste is an affront to anyone who has ever served.” He reminded the audience of the long-standing tradition of placing markers over the graves of American service members, whether identified or not, including for mass graves. “It’s what we do in America. We honor the fallen,” Lorey said. 

He added, “We believe it should be at the landfill rather than any place else. I don’t understand why we would want to put it someplace else. Is it so we can put it out of our mind and forget it ever happened?” He also said, “I know it’s appalling to some people to say you’re putting a marker at the landfill. That’s where the remains are. And we honor the fallen.” 

Lorey said he had received donations from as far away as Arizona and New Hampshire, reportedly totaling about $1,200. 

Public comment time took place prior to Lorey’s presentation and the unanimous vote by Supervisors to accede to his request. Other residents commented on the request. 

James T. Johnson, Commander of American Legion Post 329 of Dahlgren, said he supported the plaque placement. Bruce Frady agreed, saying, “Don’t put it at the courthouse. Their ashes are at the landfill, that’s where it belongs.”  

Vic Mason said he supported a memorial, but suggested it be placed at a county facility or school, where it would “get more visibility than if it were placed at the landfill.” He added, “I believe one of the county buildings would be a more honorable and dignified place for the memorial.”

John LoBuglio made the motion to allow the plaque’s placement at the landfill, saying that was the intent of those contributing and adding, “We shouldn’t try to cover anything up, you know, that Dover tried to.” Ruby Brabo provided a second to the motion without adding any comments.

Dale Sisson said he wouldn’t oppose the request, but also said, “To try to say whether you support veterans or not based on whether you favor a certain location, is I don’t think a fair argument.” 

He added, “Just because I feel a landfill might not be the best place for a memorial, that’s not a cover-up. We recognize what happened or what supposedly happened. I don’t know that anyone even knows yet exactly what went on there, unfortunately. It’s a travesty, there’s no doubt about it.”

Joe Grzeika said he agreed with Sisson’s comments and likewise said, “I am not going to stand in the way of it.” He noted he was a Navy veteran who served in Viet Nam. He added, “I’m torn about putting it there. I just don’t think it’s a respectful place to place this plaque. The words here are excellent. I think it says what we want to say.” 

Chairman Cedell Brooks said, “I believe the landfill is the best place for it.” He added, “It’s just like in a cemetery where the cremains are laid to rest.” 

Lorey said he would inform the county when a date was set for an installation ceremony. 

 

Phyllis Cook

 

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