The military, it turned out, had kept a painful secret. Before the funeral, while embalmers were preparing what was left of Angus’s shattered body at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, they had trouble fitting him into a dress uniform. The heat of the explosion had fused his upper left arm bone at an awkward angle. Without asking his parents’ permission, the embalmers sawed it off, pinning a sleeve over the stump.
The Anguses were even more stunned, said a Tampa lawyer representing them, to hear that the Air Force had concluded that the mortuary had done nothing wrong. A mortuary supervisor had insisted the family had wanted to see their fallen Marine in uniform one last time, and this was the only way to make it happen.
Not so, according to the lawyer for the Anguses, Mark J. O’Brien, conveying the first public comments from the family. They said the mortuary had ignored their stated wishes, that they explicitly had wanted to avoid the sight of their son’s traumatized remains.
“To find out nearly two years later that there were after-the-fact excuses made to at best justify, or at worst cover up, a terrible decision to cut off their son’s arm without their permission is a slap in the face to them and to all other fallen Marines,” O’Brien said.
The Anguses also did not know until this month that whistleblowers working at the Dover mortuary were so upset by what happened to their son that they eventually triggered a cascade of events that resulted in multiple federal investigations. They documented “gross mismanagement” at the Delaware base charged with caring for America’s war dead.
The investigations were carried out under strict confidentiality over the preceding 18 months while the Anguses and other affected families were kept in the dark.
Sitting in their home that Friday night, Nov. 4, the Anguses listened, in shock, and tried to understand. Before the news could sink in, they were told to brace themselves: The outcome of the investigations would be made public in a few days.
Over the next week, the Anguses learned from a blizzard of news reports that the mortuary supervisor who ordered their son’s arm sawed off had not been fired. The Air Force said it accepted responsibility and apologized, but its investigators had concluded that the only rule violation concerned some missing paperwork. The secretary of defense appointed a distinguished panel of experts to inspect the Dover mortuary, but only current operations, nothing that had happened in the past.
On top of their grief, that has made William and Kathy Angus very angry.