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 R. 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 274 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, knew the ashes were beyond retrieval.