A joint service honor guard escorts a transfer case during an "arrival ceremony" at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu on April 27, 2012. The Defense Department has acknowledged that human remains were not in fact arriving on that day. Photo Petty Officer 1st Class Barry Hirayama / U.S. Navy
Pentagon unit held ‘phony’ ceremonies for MIAs, using planes that can’t fly
A unit of the U.S. Department of Defense has been holding so-called "arrival ceremonies" for seven years, with an honor guard carrying flag-draped coffins off of a cargo plane as though they held the remains of missing American service men and women returning that day from old battlefields.
After NBC News raised questions about the arrival ceremonies, the Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that no honored dead were in fact arriving, and that the planes used in the ceremonies often couldn't even fly but were towed into position.
The solemn ceremonies at a military base in Hawaii are a sign of the nation's commitment to returning and identifying its fallen warriors. The ceremonies have been attended by veterans and families of MIAs, led to believe that they were witnessing the return of Americans killed in World War II, Vietnam and Korea.
The ceremonies also have been known, at least among some of the military and civilian staff here, as The Big Lie.
Photos behind the scenes show that the flag-draped boxes had not just arrived on military planes, but ended their day where they began it: at the same lab where the human remains have been waiting for analysis.
The Pentagon insisted that the flag-draped cases do contain human remains recently recovered, just not ones that arrived that day. It said its staff "treat the remains with the utmost of care, attention, integrity, and above all, honor." The Pentagon statement did not explain why the rituals were called "arrival ceremonies" if no one was arriving, or why the public had been told that remains removed that morning from the lab were about to go to the lab to "begin the identification process." (Read the full Pentagon statement.)
Originally published by NBC News. All rights reserved.