It was a sobering privilege to visit the Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover AFB as a guest of the professionals of the Dodge Company. This is a group affiliated with embalmers, funeral directors, and sales associates whom I have guided in Washington DC for many years. Dover Port Mortuary is responsible for the return of all fallen service members who have died overseas, and their stated mission is that this Operation will be a “dignified transfer of remains.”
I was particularly moved by the commitment of the Dover staff to “get it right.” Every personal effect of a decedent is catalogued and photographed, no matter how small. No object is considered insignificant, even gum wrappers. The embalming techniques here are state of the art, with equipment that impressed discerning Dodge members who are in the business of embalming. Great care is given as the body of a service member is cosmetically prepared, then dressed in uniform bearing all military insignia, medals, ribbons, and decorations, including those received for which the service member died. Flags are custom fit to the top of a coffin, which can open from either side as needed for more respectful viewing.
I will never guide anyone in Dover, Delaware, but the visit here has affected my guiding in locations in the Washington, DC area. When I take visitors to the War Memorials, we commemorate acts of valor. At Arlington National Cemetery we pay respects at the Tomb of the Unknowns and other known gravesites. Now I am aware of that place in between, where fallen service members are transferred, prepared for their loved ones, and transported to their final resting place. This dignified transfer of remains is not conducted with ceremony; but with loving care, professional expertise, and careful attention to detail. The land of the free and the home of the brave does not forget its own who serve. The United States has a “sacred commitment” to them, and observing the Operations at Dover makes me proud to be an American. One international professional who visited Dover remarked that the United States takes better care of their deceased service members than any other country. After my visit to Dover, I believe it!
by Kathleen Bashian