In 2003, the Department of Defence created the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), a unit charged with identifying and recovering the remains of the more than 83,000 American service members still unaccounted for from past conflicts.
When the remains of missing soldiers are recovered, JPAC holds “arrival ceremonies” at a military base in Hawaii, during which an honour guard marches off of a cargo plane carrying flag-draped coffins containing the newly-found soldiers’ remains.
Or so it seemed.
This week, after repeated questioning by NBC News, the Pentagon acknowledged that the coffins don’t actually contain remains fresh off the battlefield, nor have the cargo planes just landed from their latest mission. Rather, the planes have been towed into place ahead of time and in some instances can’t even fly.
The coffins containing the remains are transported that day from a nearby lab where they have been undergoing forensic analysis. After the ceremony, the remains are transported right back to the lab to continue the process.
The Pentagon’s admission dealt a blow to the many veterans and families of MIAs who have been attending the ceremonies for years to pay tribute and bear witness to what they believed was the return of Americans killed in World War II, Vietnam, and Korea.
Among some of the military and civilian staff on the Honolulu base, NBC found, the ceremonies are referred to as The Big Lie.
Defending the “arrival ceremonies” as a symbolic welcome home ritual, the Pentagon nevertheless admitted that its choice of language had caused the media to misinterpret the ceremonies’ functions and announced that they would be renamed “honours ceremonies.”
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