William Zwicharowski, a senior mortuary employee at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, allegedly asked inspectors if they wanted a special viewing of legendary astronaut John Glenn's dead body on two separate occaisions. Top-level Pentagon officials are now investigating the situation, according to The Military Times.
A memo written by Deborah Skillman, the Defense Department's director of casualty and mortuary affairs, states the employee's alleged actions were "clearly inappropriate and personally shocking.”
Glenn was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on April 6. Between his burial and his death, Glenn's body was held by the Air Force, who ensure "an increased level of privacy and security for a renowned public servant, Marine Corps officer, and pioneer of space exploration." It was at this time that Zwicharowski allegedly “offered to allow the inspectors to view the deceased." Skillman was among those that were offered a look.
The inspectors declined the offer.
"Concerning to me," her memo states, "is that even after Mr. Zwicharowski was counseled by his chain of command regarding the inappropriate nature of his earlier offer, he repeated it. ... This breach of protocol is serious and troubling as these offers were made to members of an official Department of Defense inspection team on-site to inspect the facility and determine whether it was in compliance with applicable procedures and policy and being well-run by its leadership," says Skillman.
"If he did that with our inspection team, who else did he make that offer to?" asked an anonymous defense official.
“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," said Col. Patrick S. Ryder, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon. "At the conclusion of the investigation, the Air Force will determine what further corrective actions, if any, may be necessary and appropriate. If any allegations of misconduct are substantiated, those involved will be held accountable."
CBS reports Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson directed the branch's inspector general's office to investigate the allegations.
Interestingly, Zwicharowski had previously been a whistle-blower in a 2013 incident in which body parts of the deceased had gone missing or were disposed of improperly. For his actions, which almost cost him as job as he disobeyed the chain of command to call attention to the issue, he was given a Public Servant of the Year award.
"I want to guarantee the families of our fallen, in the past and in the future, that they're treated with honor, dignity and respect here at Dover. ... As long as I'm here, they'll be treated that way," Zwicharowski had said in 2013.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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