Three civilian whistleblowers who reported missing body parts and other failures at the mortuary that handles the remains of America’s dead soldiers will be honored as public servants of the year at a ceremony next week.
James G. Parsons Sr., Mary Ellen Spera and William Zwicharowski will be recognized June 28 by the Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal agency that investigates complaints of wrongdoing brought by whistleblowers.
As with many whistleblowers, these employees, based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, suffered retaliation after speaking up about serious missteps at the mortuary. Their revelations prompted an 18-month investigation by the special counsel’s office that concluded that supervisors at the mortuary had wrongfully tried to fire two of the employees and take other disciplinary action against the others after they reported missing body parts, lax management and other problems at the base.
At the time, senior Air Force officials said there was no evidence that the whistleblowers had suffered reprisals or that the supervisors had broken any specific rules. When the special counsel’s report was released in January, the Air Force was criticized for not taking enough action against the officials who who retaliated against the whistleblowers. Top mortuary officials eventually were punished for their actions.
Parsons, an autopsy embalming technician, was fired last year but reinstated after the special counsel’s office intervened. Zwicharowski and Spera said they were suspended or placed on leave after they disclosed the problems at Dover.
The ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at the Reserve Officers Association at 1 Constitution Ave. in Northeast Washington.