Air Force probe: John Glenn's remains 'treated with dignity'
By DARREL ROWLAND | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: August 2, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — Fourteen months after an investigation was launched, the U.S. Air Force has concluded that Sen. John Glenn's remains "were treated with dignity and respect."
However, the probe found that the original allegations were true: A senior mortuary employee twice offered an inspection team a look at Glenn's body, stored in Refrigerator #3 at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
"The (investigating officer) determined that, although inappropriate, offers did not result in actual disrespectful behavior because the inspection team did not accept his offers," the report said.
While the investigation "substantiated several allegations of inappropriate behavior by the employee," earlier this spring "the employee retired before administrative action decisions had been made," said Ann Stefanek, chief of Air Force media operations, in response to a Dispatch inquiry originally made last year.
It was not clear why the investigation took so long. Glenn's body was kept at the Delaware base, which also receives remains of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, between the time of his memorial service in Columbus after his Dec. 8, 2016 death and his April 6, 2017 burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
The inquiry was launched by the secretary of the Air Force in May 2017 after the employee at the base's Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations twice offered a Department of Defense inspection team a look at the remains of the former senator and first American to orbit the Earth during a week-long inspection of the facility in late February and early March 2017. The employee's name was redacted from the report, but the Military Times in May 2017 identified him as William Zwicharowski, then the base's mortuary branch chief.
The partially censored 81-page report, dated November 2017, said the investigation included 34 formal interviews, talks with 50 witnesses and a review of "numerous" documents.
The mortuary chief told investigators he offered the look at Glenn's body to show "the preparation that we did on (Glenn's remains) and the specific techniques used to make somebody last six months."
The investigators didn't buy it, saying the "offer to show Senator Glenn's remains was more about showing Senator Glenn's remains than the quality of work done at the Port Mortuary. ... Moreover, the team's inspection did not and does not encompass the condition/quality of remains."
Besides, Glenn's remains were embalmed by a funeral home in Ohio, not at the Air Force facility, the probe found.
The report covered much more than possible mishandling of Glenn's body:
"The (investigating officer) reviewed three distinct events involving questionable behavior in the presence of human remains: (1) Several years ago, where (the mortuary chief) picked up a severed hand and said 'anybody need a hand?'; (2) yelling 'can you hear me' into the ear of a fallen service member; and (3) an incident where manipulated the fingers on the hand of a deceased service member in order to give 'the finger' to a deployed Airman" working at the Dover base.
Still, the report concluded "After examining whether there are any issues with the manner in which human remains are handled at (Dover Port Mortuary), the (investigating officer) concluded, by a preponderance of the evidence, that there no systemic problems regarding this issue. The evidence indicated that human remains were consistently treated with dignity and respect" at the military mortuary.