WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a review of the handling of the remains of US war dead and apologized after learning that some were cremated in a commercial facility that also cremates pets, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said there was no evidence that any US servicemember was cremated in an incinerator used for pets.
But Gates believed that the use of a commercial facility that cremated both humans and pets, albeit in separate incinerators, was "insensitive and entirely inappropriate for the dignified treatment of our fallen," Morrell said.
"The families of the fallen have the secretary's deepest apology," he added.
An unidentified army officer complained earlier Friday after visiting the military's mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to pay respects to a comrade who had been killed in combat, officials said.
He discovered that the soldier was to be cremated at a facility off the base that had a sign outside saying it was a pet crematorium, they said.
The officer sent out an email with photographs of the facility that prompted Gates' action, a senior army officer said.
The facility, owned by the Torbit's Funeral Home Crematory, had been contracted by the air force to cremate remains of soldiers brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan through Dover, officials said.
Morrell said the cremations were performed at a separate site that had two incinerators for human remains and one for pet remains.
"We have absolutely no evidence whatsoever at this point that any human remains were at all ever mistreated, were ever not cremated where they were supposed to be cremated," Morrell said.
"That said, the secretary believes that it is inappropriate, even if though permissible under the rules, to cremate our fallen, our heroes in a facility that also cremates pets," he said.
"We just believe our heroes deserve to be treated better than that."
The air force halted the use of the crematorium and directed that only facilities co-located with funeral homes be used in the future, and that there be a military presence at the facilities, Morrell said.
Gates also ordered David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, to conduct a review of the handling and cremation of remains of US military personnel, Morrell said.
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