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Editor’s Note: A correction has been issued for this article since its original publication.

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Senate has approved a measure requiring the Pentagon to review the way it handles autopsies and embalming for those killed in combat zones.

Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia said they were compelled to act after hearing one family’s story about their son, 21-year-old Georgia Guardsman Spc. Paul Saylor, who drowned Aug. 15, 2005, when his Humvee ran off a road and toppled into a canal.

Although Saylor’s body was flown from Iraq to Dover Air Force Base, Del., embalmed there, and then flown home to Bremen in just three days, his body was so decomposed that the Army deemed him “non-viewable.”

Bill Hightower, a funeral director and a family friend, said there was only one way to recognize the child he had watched grow into a man.

“I recognized his nose,” Hightower told. “Just his nose.”

When the Army casualty officers came to the Saylor home “and told me Paul had drowned, I thought to myself, at least I’ll get to see him,’” said his mother, Patti Saylor, thinking of the many families whose children were too badly mangled by IEDs to be recognized in death.

But when Paul’s casket arrived at the airport, the family learned that the Army had deemed him “non-viewable.”

“They said he had a head injury,” Patti said.

“At no time did they mention” his true condition, she said.

Patti said she still hoped that she could see her child one last time, even if the casket would have to be closed during his funeral.

Dr. Terry Martin, professor of psychology and thanatology (the study of death and dying) at Hood College in Frederick, Md., says that for a family to successfully grieve the loss of a loved one, it’s important to view the body.

“If it’s a sudden loss,” Martin said, “being able to see the body, or even a portion of the body really helps them accept the reality of the loss.”

Those hopes were shattered when Hightower opened the casket.

Hightower did not detail what he saw except to say, “if they embalmed him, they used dishwater.”

“I was disgusted,” he said. “Angry, and totally disgusted. I was unable to do anything for this family.”

Defense officials said the decision not to embalm military remains in Iraq or Afghanistan goes back to decisions made after the Gulf War, when Pentagon officials used “lessons learned” to develop a mortuary doctrine, Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Mortuary Affairs in Joint Operations.

Servicemembers who die overseas in combat zones are to be repatriated at Dover and processed at the mortuary facility there.

In Iraq, servicemembers who die are placed in body bags, covered with ice-filled plastic bags and moved as quickly as possible from their bases, usually by helicopter, to one of about a dozen or so small “collection points,” each of which is staffed with a half-dozen Army mortuary affairs soldiers, according to the Army Quartermaster’s professional bulletin from winter 2004.

Of the more than 2,400 servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 584 have been listed as “non-viewable” for a variety of reasons, Dover spokeswoman, Air Force Lt. Col. Cheryl Law said.

But even with the intense summer heat in both countries, subsequent decomposition is relatively rare: About 39 servicemembers who have died in the Middle East, “or about 2 percent,” have been listed as decomposed, he said.

For Patti Saylor, “the point is, one’s too many.”

“We had mortuaries in the ’70s in Vietnam,” Saylor said. “This is 2006. There’s no excuse they can give me that they can’t do a better job.”

It’s not the soldiers “on the line” who are at fault, she said repeatedly. “We know the soldiers over there did all they could for Paul. They just didn’t have the equipment.”

The amendment was attached to the $106.5 billion supplemental package passed by the Senate last week. That bill must still be approved by the House and signed by the president before the funding, and any review, become law.

It’s too late for Paul, Patti Saylor said. “We just want it not to happen to someone else.”

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