Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
“Duty to the Fallen: The Army’s Mortuary Mission”
The exhibit gallery, “Duty to the Fallen: The Army’s Mortuary Mission” opened on November 20, 2000 as a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Center, Ft. Lee, VA, and the Quartermaster Museum.
The Quartermaster Corps has been responsible for the care of the dead since the Civil War, This mission, which used to be known as “Graves Registration”, has evolved to include not only the search and recovery of remains on the battlefield, but to respond to any mass fatality situation. Army Mortuary Affairs Specialists have deployed around the world to assist in such places as Bosnia, Somalia, Croatia, the Middle East, and closer to home with Oklahoma City and Hurricane Andrew.
Identification of remains is an important responsibility, a process that has been perfected to the point that even remains that are discovered many years later, can often be identified. Burial of the dead, at one time a Quartermaster Corps responsibility, is conducted with honors befitting a fallen soldier. National cemeteries were first established in 1862 and now number over 100. Military cemeteries located overseas are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and contain the American dead from World Wars I and II. Today, the Army’s Mortuary Affairs Specialists are trained at the Quartermaster School at Ft. Lee. The 54th Quartermaster Company, the Army’s only active Mortuary Affairs unit, deploys from Ft. Lee when called.
The exhibit examines each aspect of the recovery, identification, and burial of the dead, from the first experiences of the Civil War to recent the recoveries of soldier remains from earlier wars. Featured in the exhibit are artifacts belonging to the crew of the “Lady Be Good”, a B-24 bomber that crashed in the desert while returning from a mission in World War II. The discovery of the crew’s remains 17 years later caused a sensation and the story of their unsuccessful attempt to walk out was the source of books and TV productions. Items from other, less well-known recovery missions, relates the ongoing efforts by the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, to recover and identify remains from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Among the artifacts exhibited is the plaster model of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, rendered by the Heraldry Branch of the Quartermaster Corps in 1925 as a model for the Tomb’s construction. Other artifacts include the funeral caisson that bore the remains of Confederate President Jefferson Davis to his reburial at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond and the catafalque constructed to carry the casket of President Eisenhower to Abilene, Kansas, for burial.
The exhibit honors those whose duty it is to care for the Army’s dead. This duty to the fallen is owed on behalf of the Army and the Nation to the soldier, their comrades, and their family. It is a duty performed sadly but willingly.
For more information on this subject visit the Mortuary Affairs History page.
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