New Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

The military’s only mortuary is located at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.  Military casualties from around the world pass through Dover where remains are prepared before going on to their final resting place.  It’s always been a busy operation, but since 9/11 the mortuary has been extremely active.

It would be difficult to find a place that operates with more respect and that provides more dignified service than at this location.  Volunteers from the base augment the professional staff.  They ensure that correct military uniforms and decorations are provided – even when the remains will not be viewed.

Last year, more family members were permitted to come to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of remains as they returned to the United States.  For many families, this step in the process is critical as they begin to deal with the death of a loved one.  The military strives to return these casualties to the U.S. extremely quickly, sometimes just days after a death – sometimes faster than that.

When survivors are notified about the death of a family member, they have to make a decision about whether to come to Dover to meet the flights bringing remains back home.  Often, they have to be in Dover within hours of the notification.

Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB

Inside the Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB. Photo courtesy of the Navy Times.

Until last month, there was no special place for them to collect themselves as they waited for remains to arrive.  There was no quiet place; no safe place to gather and deal with a rush of emotions we can only imagine.

But, on January 6, the USO and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations opened the Families of the Fallen Center at Dover.  The pictures here will give you an idea about how it looks and  maybe even how it feels. It took just 90 days to turn an empty building into a place of dignified reflection.  We’re extremely grateful to the donors, contractors and vendors who worked with the USO and the base to turn this idea into reality.

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The Honor Guard and USO volunteers who meet each and every fallen servicemember deserves our very best. In the following video, Center Director Joan Cote and former Dover Wing Commander John Pray, among others, reflect on the new Centers and why they’re more than just bricks and mortar…