Sen. Claire McCaskill is demanding an explanation from the Pentagon by Friday about the cost and details of staging fake homecoming arrival ceremonies for the remains of fallen soldiers.
"Families in this community just want officials to be honest and forthright about the government’s efforts — instead, what they’re often getting is false hope and fake ceremonies," the Missouri Democrat said in a statement addressing an NBC News report
about phony arrival ceremonies for the remains of MIAs from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
According to NBC, the Department of Defense has been staging "arrival" ceremonies complete with an honor guard carrying flag-draped coffins from a cargo plane purportedly containing remains of missing soldiers finally returning from combat.
NBC reported that the ceremonies at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii are nothing but "The Big Lie," a moniker coined by military and civilian staff at the base. The planes were towed into position and the remains — represented as having just arrived on American soil — were in fact already undergoing testing to confirm identities at a lab on base.
The fake ceremonies have been taking place for more than seven years, NBC reported.
McCaskill, the daughter of a World War II veteran, released a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting details about the remains, such as where and when they were recovered. She also wants to know the price tag for each ceremony, a figure she says should include the use of the military aircraft.
The Pentagon characterized the ceremonies as "symbolic" and admitted that the MIA remains were already in the country undergoing forensic testing when the fake arrivals took place.
According to NBC, the arrival ceremonies also featured generals and dignitaries in attendance, along with the playing of "Taps" and spectators singing "The Star Spangled Banner." An emcee would thank the crowd for "welcoming (the soldiers) home," and would indicate that the remains in the coffins would be taken to the base lab to begin the official identification process.
NBC reported that before each ceremony, transfer cases — draped with flags to resemble coffins — would be loaded onto a pre-positioned C-17 aircraft about 6 a.m. Three hours later, families, veterans, the public and the media — along with employees of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC)
bused over to make the crowd appear larger — would be allowed in and the previously rehearsed ceremony would begin.
American Legion Commander Dan Dellinger called the ceremonies "deceptive," saying honesty from the beginning would have been the "honorable" thing to do.
"Symbolic honors are one thing, but deception is quite another," Dellinger said in a statement. "The so-called 'Big Lie' does not honor our dead. Instead, it misleads and insults the living. It is especially egregious during a most sensitive and vulnerable time for families."
According to the Stars and Stripes
, JPAC, was under scrutiny even before the NBC report because of two damaging reports about endemic problems within the agency, the Stars and Stripes reports.
Over the summer, the Associated Press also exposed a 2012 internal JPAC report that painted the picture of a corrupt and inept agency. Weeks later the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon was "inefficient" in its mission to account for soldiers missing overseas.
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