Family unable to view paratrooper’s body at Alaska memorial

Paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment conduct a parachute training and water landing exercise at Big Lake, Alaska, July 22, 2011.


By DOMINGO RAMIREZ JR. | Fort Worth Star-Telegram (MCT) | Published: February 11, 2014

FORT WORTH — Juan and Graciela Pasillas traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, expecting to view the body of their son, Army Sgt. Jose M. Pasillas, a paratrooper who died after a jump Jan. 30.

But the family came home Sunday without saying goodbye.

“We just wanted a minute or two with him,” his father said Monday in Spanish. “If it had just been on a table, that’s all we wanted. It didn’t matter what room, but we never got close to him.”

The Army contacted them and bought their airline tickets for the 3,900-mile trip Thursday to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, where their son was stationed, Juan Pasillas said. The Army also bought a third ticket for one of his sisters.

They attended a memorial service Friday at the base, but were told that the body wasn’t prepared for viewing, Pasillas said.

Base officials said Tuesday that delays in paperwork for the funeral arrangements and an Army policy on viewing a soldier’s body prevented the family from seeing their loved one.

“We never want to add to the strain or stress a family has to go through,” John Pennell, a spokesman for U.S. Army Alaska, said Tuesday. “But in the end, that was what eventually happened in this case.”

Jose Pasillas, 34, had designated his wife, Marie Pasillas, to be in charge of funeral arrangements should anything happen to him, Pennell said. She could not be reached Tuesday.

“By Army regulations, the person chosen to handle funeral arrangements must complete paperwork and decide who may view the body,” Pennell said. “During these types of situations, the Army does not want to rush anyone on their decisions about a funeral.”

Pennell said Marie Pasillas had just completed the paperwork before the family arrived.

Under Army policy, a body must be prepared and in a casket before anyone can view it. Jose Pasillas’ body was not ready when his parents were in Alaska, Pennell said Tuesday.

“The funeral home did not have a military-grade casket, so they had to go to the lower 48 states,” Pennell said. “That wasn’t here and nothing else was ready.”

Juan Pasillas said the funeral will be in North Carolina, where the wife’s family is from.

“I was mad, but what could I do?” he said. “It just wasn’t right.”

Pennell said he hopes the family will still get closure.

“I understand how they feel,” Pennell said Tuesday. “I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate them.”

The paratrooper had done four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he was scheduled to be deployed again in the spring.

He collapsed after a jump about 3 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Malamute Drop Zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to an Army news release. He underwent emergency surgery for a torn aorta and died at 8 p.m. at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Jose Pasillas attended Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth for a year. He entered the Army in 2001 and attended basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

He arrived in Alaska in August 2012 after being stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Bragg, N.C. According to the Army, he had combat deployments in Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2004, 2006 and 2009.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.


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