DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — After an unexpected knock at the front door or a phone call, for the family and friends of service members who pay the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country, the painful process of grieving begins.
For the son of a Mission couple, the painful task of identifying the remains, scanning for unexploded ordnances, performing an autopsy, and preparing each service member for burial in a casket chosen by the family for the final trip home begins.
Navy Chief Petty Officer William R. Montague, son of Ed and Rae-Ann Montague of Sunset Blvd., Mission, and the other civilian and military members who work at the 70,000-square-foot, Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, are tasked with making sure that the remains of every service member is treated with dignity, honor and respect.
Montague is assigned to the mortuary as a mortician.
“I provide profession guidance to casualty officers, family members, and commands on technical mortuary issues, movement of all fallen Navy and Marine Corps service members. As a licensed mortician in the state of Texas, I have the technical expertise to do embalming and funeral arrangements and explain all Navy mortuary benefits,” said Montague. “I also make sure that uniforms are available for every Navy and Marine deceased service member.”
Before the remains are taken to the mortuary for preparation for their final resting place, they are honored for giving their lives in the service of our country by what is called a dignified transfer.
The dignified transfer begins when the fallen military member is returned to Dover, usually within 24 to 36 hours after their death. It is here, along the flightline and out of the sight of the media, where family members are allowed to witness the transfer.
The dignified transfer is a solemn, precision movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service. Always conducted the same, a senior ranking officer of the fallen member’s service oversees each transfer. The transfers are conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country.
“There is only one opportunity to get it right in order to ensure family satisfaction under these difficult times. Attention to detail is never more important when doing everything necessary to return these fallen service members home with honor, dignity, and respect,” said Montague, who graduated in 1982 from Valley Christian High School, and in 1984 from the Commonwealth College of Mortuary Service, Houston.
Beginning with the Persian Gulf War in 1991, a moratorium was placed on media access to cover dignified transfers. The policy was reissued in 2001 when Operation Enduring Freedom began, and again in 2003 for all military operations. Since 2001, more than 4,000 dignified transfers have taken place.
Because of the moratorium, few people are aware that Mortuary Affairs exists, and what their role is in preparing the remains of a fallen hero before being returned to their loved ones.
“Our mission is to provide exemplary mortuary affairs services and support whenever possible, while proving care, compassion, and support to each and every family member and command as necessary,” said Montague who has been in the military for more than 17 years.
Montague and his fellow team members continue to make sure that each military member receives the utmost dignity, honor, and respect that they deserve.