The Edmond Sun

Features

September 25, 2012

Group honors troop remains dumped in landfill

Maybe it's because they live just a few miles from a stone memorial to Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's severed left arm. But when a group of residents from Virginia's Northern Neck heard that the cremated body parts of American troops had been dumped unceremoniously in a local landfill, they knew what to do: Mark the place - rotting garbage and all - as sacred ground.

"People bring trash here. That's what it is, a dump," said Richard Lorey, an Army veteran who lives a few miles from the King George County Landfill just east of Fredericksburg. "But this is where our fallen heroes ended up, and this is where we should honor them."

And so a year after their sometimes controversial efforts began, Lorey and a group of several dozen gathered Sunday to dedicate the landfill as the final resting place of the partial remains of at least 272 U.S. troops killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They were placed here by the Air Force in a quiet practice first reported last year by The Washington Post.

The practice has ended, but the remains are still there. And now they are getting some home-grown military honors.

In the slanting autumn sun, uniformed military personnel and VFW members gathered outside the landfill gates. A high school trumpeter blew taps. An American Legion motorcycle drill team carried billowing U.S. flags on a lap around the interior of the landfill.

Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott Smith, whose remains had been dumped there, was on hand to unveil a plaque that honors the presence of "American service members known but to God."

Smith, who was instrumental in uncovering the scandal, was both appreciative and angry in her remarks. "Scott, I love you and I miss you every day. I know you deserve more than this," she said from the podium.

The idea of a dump-side memorial was born soon after reports emerged that mortuary workers at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the country's main point of return for service members killed abroad, had disposed of ashes from military personnel in the Virginia landfill.

The ashes reportedly came from body parts recovered from battlefields between 2004 and 2008. Most could not be identified, although some were traced by DNA analysis to individuals. The families of those service members gave the Air Force permission to dispose of the fragments but were not told they would be cremated and then mixed with medical waste for disposal in a landfill.

The revelations sparked outrage on Capitol Hill, and the military now buries such ashes at sea. But in the community around the landfill, the episode provoked some deep thinking about how to add a measure of dignity to a chain-link enclosure that boasts none of the solemn shade of Arlington or the rolling, tombstone-covered fields of Gettysburg.

Lorey, the veteran who lives near the landfill, said the scandal was a hot topic at both his local tea party group and his American Legion post. Many people immediately wanted to see whether the remains could be removed and buried elsewhere. But Lorey, a retired chemist who worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in nearby Dahlgren, Va., knew the ashes were beyond retrieval.

"We couldn't undo what had already been done," Lorey said. "But we thought the least we could do was get a plaque."

Small donations from the community quickly added up, and after the project was featured in an edition of Waste Recycling News, Lorey began to get envelopes from as far away as Texas and New Hampshire.

"I would open an envelope and there would be 10 or 20 dollars, just cash, no note," he said. "I got to where I was in tears every time I walked up to the mailbox."

Eventually, the group raised about $3,500, enough to order the 3-by-3-foot cast bronze memorial from a local funeral home.

But there was disagreement about where to put it.

For many, the idea of marking a dump as a military burial ground was offensive. They proposed erecting the memorial at the county courthouse or even at Arlington National Cemetery.

Others, including King George County Supervisor Ruby Brabo, felt that the plaque should mark the actual spot. She had contacted Gari-Lynn Smith, who wanted the memorial to be near her husband's ashes.

"If it was my husband in the landfill, I would want the plaque at the landfill," Brabo said.

At a sometimes emotional meeting last July, Lorey pleaded with a divided county Board of Supervisors to give approval for placing the marker outside the landfill gates, a grassy setting where flag poles already flew U.S. , Virginia, county and Waste Management Inc. flags.

"People think it's a big pile of garbage and you're going to put a plaque in front of it, but it's not," Lorey said. "It's more like a little park."

After he read aloud a supportive letter from Smith, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve the landfill location.

Brabo had less luck enlisting the Pentagon in the project, which memorializes an embarrassing episode. After getting some positive reactions to her preliminary requests for an honor guard, the ultimate answer was no, she said.

 "Last fall, everybody seemed enthusiastic, but once it moved up the chain, the enthusiasm was no longer there," Brabo said.

According to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Warren, the Pentagon turned down Brabo's request because it came from her in a private capacity, not from the county supervisors.

"We would consider a request from the county government," Warren said.

Brabo said there was little support among supervisors to make the formal request. So organizers put together the program without military help. A color guard was provided by a local Sea Cadets chapter.

 "I think [the Department of Defense] has really missed an opportunity here," Brabo said. "This was never about placing blame; it's about respect and honor for our service members."

 

1
Text Only
Features
  • MS_Andy Billups.jpg Local man relies on experience in July 4 emergency

    Andy Billups just happened to have gained experience as a combat zone firefighter/medic while he was serving as a civilian contractor in Iraq.
    The Edmond businessman just happened to have a friend with a place on Grand Lake where he has been viewing Independence Day fireworks for a number of years, and he just happened to be there July 4.
    And he just happened to be relaxing on a hammock when he heard a some kids making a commotion.
    Located two blocks east of Disney on State Highway 28 in the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range in northeast Oklahoma, the 59,000-plus surface acre Grand Lake is known for its state parks, marinas, restaurants, motels and fishing.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • -1.jpg 5-year-old learns valuable lessons

    It is never too soon to learn about giving and receiving. An Edmond 5-year-old recently learned about both.
    Kendall Kingry will be entering kindergarten at Will Rogers Elementary this fall and she is already looking forward to November.
    “I get to go to Disneyland in November,” Kendall said.

    July 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • peach formatted.jpg Hard year for peaches doesn’t dampen summer tradition  

    A rusting, silver-colored water tower tells visitors to this rural town between Muskogee and Tulsa that they’ve come to the “Peach Capitol of Oklahoma.”
    Residents of Stratford, the state’s other self-proclaimed peach capital, might beg to differ. Even so, Porter is known for its peaches, and every year thousands of people flood this town of about 600 residents to taste and celebrate the local crop during the three-day Peach Festival.
    Like the aging water tower, Porter’s peach industry isn’t as vibrant as it once was.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Final step to train toddler with baby on way

    Q: Using your advice, I successfully toilet-trained my daughter by age 16 months. It is now three months later and we are still using diapers at naps and nighttime. At her nap, which lasts several hours, she fully soaks her diaper. At night, she is taking off her diaper prior to falling asleep, wetting the bed after she goes to sleep and then crying for us when she wakes up in a pool of pee. Is this a sign that I should begin night training? I'm hesitant to do this because I am 8 months pregnant and don't relish the idea of waking up several times a night to take her to the bathroom and tending to a newborn as well. I would prefer to continue using diapers until she is old enough to get out of bed and take herself to the potty (even a potty in her room). Is this unrealistic? Or should I just deal with the extra night wakings and start taking her to the potty a few times a night now? If not, how do I keep her diaper on at night?

    July 25, 2014

  • Living Smart: How landscaping can deter intruders, pests

    Done right, landscaping can do much more than attract compliments and boost your property value. It can help you repel intruders, both human and natural.
    Landscaping experts who’ve earned high marks from Angie’s List members say overgrown bushes and shrubs are like welcome mats to burglars. Keep plants and trees trimmed. Place thorny but attractive bougainvillea or barberry bushes under windows, sending would-be thieves a sharp message to go elsewhere.

    July 25, 2014

  • 7-26 YARD OF THE WEEK.jpg Ganns earn Yard of the Week honors

    This week’s “Edmond Yard of the Week” winner has been in existence for 44 years at 105 Barbara Drive, but looks fresh and new thanks to longtime residents Betty and Gordon Gann as they fill their garden spaces to overflowing with colors and textures.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Discard the boredom of family game night

    We’re all about families having fun together, and game night is one of the best ways to do that. But playing the same games over and over can get a little stale. So in the interests of injecting a little more fun into your family’s game night, here are some great choices that will keep you and yours engaged and laughing.

    July 25, 2014

  • What’s normal age for voice change?

    Q: When is it normal for a boy’s voice to change? My son is 10, and his voice is getting deeper every day.
    A.: “It’s a very variable process,” says pediatrician Bonnie Miller, associate director of general pediatrics at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.. “Puberty will begin as early as age 9. Generally with the advent of puberty, the voice box changes.”

    July 25, 2014

  • IMG_2996.JPG Krazy Daze hits downtown Edmond

    Newly transplanted Edmond residents Hannah Brenning, Cheyenne Middle School 8th grader; Jordan Brenning, Cross Timbers 4th grader; and Sydney Brenning, North High School freshman; check out the items in front of Sterling's in downtown Edmond during the Krazy Daze Sale lasting through Saturday. Businesses will open their doors at 10 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Living history presented at metropolitan libraries

    Hear stories of pace setting women in different eras throughout history. Biographies of Wild West trailblazers, The Harvey Girls, WWII assembly line champion-Rosie the Riveter, mail order bride Mary Elizabeth Walker, and Oklahoma society lady Stella Louise Wilson-Johnson will be reenacted by gifted and prolific storyteller Barbara Byrd.
    Stella Louise Wilson-Johnson was the wife of a prominent Guthrie attorney who shares her experiences and adventures during the early days of Oklahoma statehood. Her presentation will be at 7 p.m. Monday, July 28, Edmond Library, 10 S. Boulevard. For more information, visit www.metrolibrary.org

    July 25, 2014