A report has alleged a mortuary employee offered to show Glenn's body to an inspection team
A story published May 27 on the Military Times website has reported a senior civilian employee at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force base twice offered Department of Defense inspectors a peek at American icon John Glenn’s dead body while the former astronaut was awaiting burial.
The story was broken by senior reporter Karen Jowers and can be seen at http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/john-glenn-body-disrespected-air-force-mortuary.
Jowers’ story identified the individual mortuary branch chief William Zwicharowski.
Her story is based on an internal memo obtained by the Military Times, a publication of military news that’s independent of the Department of Defense.
The allegation sparked a top-level investigation to determine whether misconduct was committed, Jowers wrote.
The May 11 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 95 when he died Dec. 8, and his remains were entrusted to the AFMAO until his April 6 burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
According to a statement released by the Air Force Office of Public Affairs, the issue came to light after a mortuary inspection team from the Department of Defense completed a weeklong inspection March 3.
However, upon reading the inspection report, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson ordered the Air Force Inspector General’s office to investigate the management at the mortuary and to address allegations “that someone reportedly offered to show the remains of Sen. John Glenn to DoD inspectors.”
The statement notes inspectors declined the offers and never actually saw Glenn’s body.
Jowers said she had attempted to contact both Zwicharowski and Glenn’s family but was unsuccessful.
However, she added, the day after the Military Times published its story, Zwicharowski contacted the Associated Press by text to say he was proud of the job he and his staff had done in taking care of Glenn’s remains.
AFMAO Chief of Public Affairs Christin K. Michaud said she could not comment on the Military Times story as the incident still is under investigation.
The Air Force Office of Public Affairs echoed the AFMAO statement.
“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.
“While it would be inappropriate to discuss specifics related to the on-going investigation at this time, we are committed to being as transparent as possible going forward.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect Zwicharowski's comments to the Associated Press.