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New tomb at Arlington? Plan focuses on Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond

May 17, 2012|By Richard Simon

WASHINGTON -- The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, dedicated in 1921 and guarded around the clock, has long been among the most visited sites in the nation's capital.

It would be joined by a Tomb of Remembrance for the unidentified remains of fallen troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and any future conflicts under a proposal headed for a vote in the House of Representatives, perhaps this week.

Rep. Steven Stivers (R-Ohio), an Iraq war veteran, proposed the new tomb after reports last year that the cremated partial remains of at least 274 military personnel were disposed of at a Virginia landfill prior to 2008.

"To those who have given their final measure of devotion in service to our country, they deserve a final resting place worthy of their dedication, commitment and devotion, and we need to give that to them," he recently said.

The military now cremates unidentified remains of fallen troops and scatters the ashes at sea.

Stivers hopes to attach his proposal to a defense spending bill now before the House. He also has introduced separate legislation, co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

The measure would establish the tomb for interment of cremated fragments of service member remains that cannot be identified through DNA testing or are unclaimed after a period of time.

The Defense Department declined to take a position on the legislation.

A Pentagon report issued after news accounts on the disposal of cremated remains at the landfill recommended improvements at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary in Delaware "to assure the very highest standard of care for our fallen and their families," a Defense Department spokeswoman said.

"There is no mission more sacred to all those who serve than caring for our fallen with dignity, honor and respect and for caring for those families who have sacrificed so much," spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said.  

The Tomb of the Unknowns holds the remains of an unidentified U.S. soldier from World War I, with remains of unknown service members from World War II and the Korean war adjacent.  

The remains of a Vietnam War casualty were interred at the tomb in 1984 but identified in 1998 through DNA testing. The remains of Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie were then moved to a cemetery in St. Louis near where he grew up.

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richard.simon@latimes.com  

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