Ex-Reservist Questions Handling Of Casket

Associated Press
Friday, December 1, 2006

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 30 -- The Army is investigating a woman's allegation that a soldier's flag-draped casket was placed in an airport baggage cart with other luggage while being transferred between flights.

"The Army is always concerned with treating all of our fallen comrades' remains with the utmost dignity and respect," spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Arata said Thursday.

Cynthia Hoag, 56, a former Army reservist, said she was waiting for a flight at Rochester International Airport on Oct. 27 when she saw the coffin taken off a commercial flight along with passengers' luggage. A uniformed soldier accompanied the coffin as it was placed in a baggage cart and transported to another flight, she said.

"At the very least, couldn't there have been a hearse to transport the fallen soldier?" Hoag asked in an essay in Tuesday's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. "At the very least, couldn't there have been a group of soldiers to receive one of their own?

"It was a very sobering, sad experience for all of us," wrote Hoag, who said she saw the episode from a terminal window. "Please don't let this happen again to any soldier."

Her account prompted Monroe County's executive, Maggie Brooks, to write a letter asking the Pentagon to change the policy for transporting the coffins of war casualties.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, said Hoag's description does not correlate with military procedure.

Remains of soldiers killed in Iraq are taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, then usually flown to a soldier's home area, Smith said. Military escorts accompany each flight and when a casket reaches the home area, it is met by an honor guard of two people and then transported to a funeral home, she said.

David P. Damelio, acting director of the Rochester airport, said a coffin would not fit into a cart loaded with luggage.

Calls to Hoag's home went unanswered Thursday.

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