The Pentagon on Thursday pledged “utmost care” for the remains of fallen soldiers following a report that the remains of at least 274 troops were dumped in a Virginia landfill.
The report, in The Washington Post, revealed that the Air Force used the landfill far more frequently than had previously been acknowledged. The practice was ended three years ago.
“The secretary is aware of this media report and remains committed to the utmost care for our fallen heroes and their families,” George Little, spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said in a statement.
Little added that Panetta supports “the current practice of placing subsequently identified remains at sea, which has been the policy of the department since 2008.”
According to the Post, incinerated partial remains were dumped at a King George County landfill in Virginia. They were cremated between 2004 and 2008.
The report was based on database information at the Dover Air Base mortuary, where the remains of most war dead return. The revelations came after a four-year inquiry by the widow of Sgt. Scott Smith, who was killed in July 2006 as part of a bomb-disposal unit. She kept asking about where his remains were placed and eventually got the answer.
The families of the dead authorized the military to dispose of the remains respectfully and with dignity. They were unaware of the landfill dumping, and Air Force officials told the newspaper they have no plans now to alert the families.
Military policy or regulations did not formally authorize the practice. The mortuary has handled the remains of more than 6,300 troops since 2001.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.