“The big lie,” that’s what staff at a military base in Hawaii call “arrival ceremonies,” which are meant to honor the remains of American soldiers returning from World War II, Vietnam and Korea.
Why do some of the military and civilian staff who put on these “arrival ceremonies” call them “the big lie”?
Well, that’s because the human remains in those flag-draped coffins being carried out of “static” cargo planes by honor guards aren’t arriving back to the U.S. from old battlefields for the first time, rather they’ve been here for months, in many cases sitting in labs waiting for forensic analysis, a NBC News report revealed.
The Pentagon told NBC News in a statement that these ceremonies, which Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) started conducting in September 2006 are “symbolic in nature,” but understood how some may have come to believe that the remains were literally arriving for the first time.
“Based on how media announcements and ceremony remarks are currently written, it is understandable how these ‘arrival’ ceremonies might be misinterpreted, leading one to believe the ceremonies are ‘dignified transfer ceremonies,’ which they are not,” said Department of Defense spokesperson, Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost.
For example, the official script for the ceremonies calls on the emcee to thank the audience for “welcoming them home,” and tells those in attendance that, “After removal from the aircraft, the remains will be taken to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory. There, JPAC scientists will begin the identification process.”
Derrick-Frost also admitted that the planes used in the ceremonies are often nonoperational, towed in from nearby maintenance hangers.
“Many times, static aircraft are used for the ceremonies, as operational requirements dictate flight schedules and aircraft availability,” she said.
It’s rather evident that the Pentagon perpetuated the myth that these remains were arriving for the first time, though, they did not answer questions directly about the role they played in creating the allusion.
Moving forward, the Pentagon has decided to change the name of these events from “arrival ceremonies” to “honors ceremonies,” which they believe is a more fitting description.
“The name changed because they’ve already arrived, technically,” said Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith, public affairs officer for JPAC.
As NBC reported, Smith is in charge of identifying 83,000 missing service men and women from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His team identifies fewer than 80 bodies per year, at a cost of more than $1 million per identification. On average, it takes 11 years for remains to be identified.
News of this charade did not sit well with at least one veteran. Jesse Baker, who served in the Air Force during World War II and Korea, told NBC News that he was hoodwinked into believing these soldiers had just landed.
“If I have been fooled, I am going to be a very pissed-off citizen, because I’ve been going for years,” said Baker, who lives in Honolulu and who has attended more than 50 arrival ceremonies. “And I know a lot of guys who are going to be pissed off. … They’re out there honoring warriors.”
Baker did not understand why the Pentagon would allow “the big lie” to continue.
“That’s disturbing. I don’t know when they stopped being honest and switched over to this Mickey Mouse, but whoever did it, I hope they find him a new job somewhere,” he lamented.