Air Force officials are investigating a disturbing allegation that a mortuary employee allowed others — or offered to allow others — to view John Glenn’s remains before his April 6 burial, according to a report in a military newspaper.
The Military Times said it obtained an “internal memo” written by Deborah Skillman, the Department of Defense’s director of casualty and mortuary affairs, stating that “the employee’s alleged actions were ‘clearly inappropriate and personally shocking.’” The publication said the document is dated May 11.
A former astronaut and U.S. senator, Glenn was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in early April, about four months after he died Dec. 8 in Columbus. He was buried on the 74th anniversary of his marriage to wife Annie.
According to the Times, while the Air Force had custody of Glenn’s remains, on Feb. 28 and again on March 2, William Zwicharowski, the mortuary’s branch chief, “offered to allow the inspectors to view the deceased.” Skillman was apparently among those who heard the offer, the paper reported.
The inspectors declined Zwicharowski’s offer to view the body, said the Times, citing unnamed officials.
The paper quotes a Pentagon spokesman as saying, “The Air Force takes extremely seriously its responsibility to fulfill the nation’s sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Air Force will determine what further corrective actions, if any, may be necessary and appropriate.
Glenn’s children asked for privacy after the news broke Friday.
“Dave and I spoke with the Secretary of the Air Force yesterday. The Air Force is taking complete responsibility and is conducting an investigation. we are asking that our privacy be respected,” Glenn’s daughter, Carolyn Ann “Lyn” Glenn said on behalf of her and her brother David.
“This alleged behavior is extremely troubling. To say that I am shocked and appalled is an understatement. While this behavior should never be tolerated in any circumstance, it is especially disrespectful to a man who gave so much to our state and nation,” said Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, an Air Force veteran.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also said the news was “disturbing.”
“This report is disturbing, and I urge the Inspector General to thoroughly investigate what occurred. I will closely monitor the investigation as we work to ensure all our heroes are treated with the respect they deserve,” Portman said.
“Good grief!” said Dale Butland, Glenn’s long-time press secretary and aide. “If protocols were violated, it is in some ways an unfortunate sign of the times. Clearly, something like this violates all standards of decency – if it’s true.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was “disturbed” by the news.
“The Secretary of the Air Force has spoken with the Glenn family and personally committed to completing a full investigation,” Brown said. I will be following up with the Air Force to ensure the investigation is swift and thorough and that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure all fallen servicemembers are treated with respect and dignity.”
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.