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Mortuary chief: John Glenn’s remains have not been respected

DOVER, Del. – As air force officials investigate allegations that the inspectors were invited to view the remains of the astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn at Dover Air Force Base, a military mortuary chief said that Glenn’s remains were treated with “impeccable care.”

“He was not respected in any way, shape, or form,” William Zwicharowski told The Associated Press on Friday.

Zwicharowski, said he is proud of the work that he and his staff did in the care for Glenn’s remains during the months between his death last year December, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in April.

Air Force officials are investigating concerns raised about the management of the mortuary and the allegations that the inspectors who visited the facility this spring were invited to look at Glenn’s remains, which they refused to do.

Despite repeated requests, the Ministry of Defence on Friday rejected a memo in which the alleged incident.

Zwicharowski, he said also haven’t seen the memo or the final report of the inspection, the mortuary passed with a score of 94 percent.

Zwicharowski also said he had no access to the morgue since Monday, when he was notified that he was under an inspector-general of the research.

“I got no reason for the IG investigation,” said Zwicharowski, who is currently assigned to a community outreach position in the base is the support for the mission of the group.

“I know nothing about John Glenn until the last night,” he added, pointing at a text he received from a colleague.

Zwicharowski acknowledged asking the inspectors if they wanted to watch Glenn’s body, but said that it is a purely professional query.

“It was an honest invitation to the quality of our preparation of remains. It was not to see John Glenn. If it was John Smith, Private, that doesn’t matter … It was to see that the care we had given and its conservation.”

“They are inspecting the morgue, and probably 80 or 90 percent of our mission is the preparation of remains,” he added. “… If it was a Private Smith, it would never be a problem. We treat everyone equal in the morgue. We are proud of that. We don’t care if you’re a janitor or a general.”

A message left Friday with the Glenn family of the secretary seeking comment.

In a May 11 memo obtained by the Military Times, Deborah Skillman, the Ministry of Defence, director of casualty and mortuary affairs, described Zwicharowski’s actions as “inappropriate and personally shocking.”

Zwicharowski said he does not recall any negative response of the inspection members of the team.

“That is why I am impressed. … I thought not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. They are in a mortuary, and they are the inspection of a morgue,” he explained.

A few days after the inspection, however, Lt.-Col. Chip Hollinger, the deputy commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, said Zwicharowski, the inspection team said that they didn’t think it was necessary to invite them to see Glenn’s body.

“It was brought up, and I explained to Col. Hollinger why, and it was only professional. I saw nothing wrong with it and he never said anything else about it,” Zwicharowski said.

Zwicharowski said that he believes that he is approached with retaliation for blowing the whistle on the mishandling of the remains in the mortuary of a few years ago.

“I think that the sequel retaliation,” he said.

Zwicharowski and two colleagues received official awards from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in 2012 for pointing out problems at the morgue.

But Zwicharowski said Friday that morale among mortuary staff was “horrible,” and he described the working environment as “toxic.”

“What we need is less management,” he said. “I’m micromanaged and told how to embalm bodies, by someone who has never touched a body.”

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Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor in Washington and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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