Mortuary Affairs
Mortuary Affairs is a service within the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 Quartermaster Corps tasked with the retrieval, identification, transportation, and burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 of deceased American and American-allied military personnel. Until 1991, it was known as the Graves Registration Service (GRS or GRREG). The Graves Registration Service was created several months after the United States entered World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...


The current Army Military Occupational Specialty for the career field is 92A (a general code for officers across the Quartermaster Corps) and 92M for enlisted personnel.


Mortuary Affairs is responsible for retrieval, identification, transportation, and burial of American soldiers. Retrieval can be further subdivided into:
  • Combat Recovery — Recovery while combat is still ongoing.
  • Post-Combat Recovery — Recovery of the dead immediately after combat has ceased. Danger from mines and enemy snipers is still quite high. Until the 20th century, it was commonplace for combatants to call battlefield truces
    A ceasefire is a temporary stoppage of a war in which each side agrees with the other to suspend aggressive actions. Ceasefires may be declared as part of a formal treaty, but they have also been called as part of an informal understanding between opposing forces...

    , in which combatants would temporarily cease fire to allow for the collection of their dead. This practice has ceased in modern warfare.
  • Area/Theater Recovery
  • Historical Recovery

The role of the Mortuary Affairs service is legally defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice
Uniform Code of Military Justice
The Uniform Code of Military Justice , is the foundation of military law in the United States. It is was established by the United States Congress in accordance with the authority given by the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which provides that "The Congress shall have Power . ....

. (Specifically, it is defined in 10 USC
Title 10 of the United States Code
Title 10 of the United States Code outlines the role of armed forces in the United States Code.It provides the legal basis for the roles, missions and organization of each of the services as well as the United States Department of Defense...

, subtitle A, Chapter 75, Subchapter I, section 1471.)

Mortuary Affairs has historically been tied with investigation of War crimes. Following World War II, Graves Registration Personnel were instructed to forward all pathological evidence indicating war crimes to the War Crimes Commission.

The Mortuary Affairs Creed is 'Dignity, Reverence, Respect.'

Pre-World War I

In the Seminole Wars
Seminole Wars
The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole — the collective name given to the amalgamation of various groups of native Americans and Black people who settled in Florida in the early 18th century — and the United States Army...

 and Mexican-American War, American soldiers were buried near where they fell, with no effort made to return and little effort made to identify the dead. The American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 marked the first time the United States made a concerted effort to identify dead soldiers. General Order No. 33 specified that field commanders were responsible for identification and burial efforts. However, these efforts were not well organized or executed, and were often given low priority. (Commanders were more concerned with winning battles than with the disposition of dead soldiers). After the war, remains of Union soldiers were disinterred and reburied in National Cemeteries
United States National Cemetery
"United States National Cemetery" is a designation for 146 nationally important cemeteries in the United States. A National Cemetery is generally a military cemetery containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses but not exclusively so...


During the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

, the United States initiated a policy of returning soldiers killed on foreign soil back to next-of-kin in the United States, the first country in the world to do so. "Quartermaster General Marshall I. Ludington spoke words that became a harbinger of U.S. retrieval efforts in major world conflicts only a few years later. He said the efforts of the Quartermaster Corps in the Spanish-American War were most likely the first attempt of a nation to "disinter the remains of all its soldiers who, in defense of their country, had given up their lives on a foreign shore, and bring them... to their native land for return to their relatives and friends or their reinternment in the beautiful cemeteries which have been provided by our Government for its defenders."

During the Philippine-American War
Philippine-American War
The Philippine–American War, also known as the Philippine War of Independence or the Philippine Insurrection , was an armed conflict between a group of Filipino revolutionaries and the United States which arose from the struggle of the First Philippine Republic to gain independence following...

, the Burial Corps and United States Army Morgue and Office of Identification had overlapping responsibilities for care of the dead.

World War I

The Graves registration service was created by General Order
General order
In militaries, a general order is a published directive, originated by a commander, and binding upon all personnel under his command, the purpose of which is to enforce a policy or procedure unique to his unit's situation which is not otherwise addressed in applicable service regulations, military...

 #104, issued on August 7, 1917, several months after the United States entered World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. It consolidated the existing departments into the Graves Registration Service. At its inception, the Graves registration service consisted of the 301st, 302nd, 303rd, and 304th Grave Registration Units. They were deployed to Europe during the war. Many of the men that served in these units had been incapacitated for field service.

World War II

The Graves Registration Service ceased to exist during Interwar period
Interwar period
Interwar period can refer to any period between two wars. The Interbellum is understood to be the period between the end of the Great War or First World War and the beginning of the Second World War in Europe....

. This led to difficulties reactiviting the service at the beginning of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Despite these initial difficulties, by the end of the war, the Graves Registration service consisted of more than 30 active companies
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 and 11 separately numbered platoon
A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads and containing 16 to 50 soldiers. Platoons are organized into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer—the...


At the end of World War II, the Graves Registration service was again effectively disbanded.

Korean War

The sudden onset of the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 caused many problems for the Graves Registration Service. Only one platoon was available in the entire theater. "As the conflict grew in intensity, and deaths of United Nations personnel increased, it became necessary for each combat division to establish and operate its own cemetery, pending the arrival of graves registration companies from the zone of interior to assume this responsibility." The rugged terrain and poor communications further hampered Graves Registration Service activities. Shifts in the momentum of the war meant that it was not uncommon for whole cemeteries to be dug up and moved elsewhere.

Starting on Christmas Day in 1950, the United States made a sweeping change in its policies regarding the handling of soldiers who had been killed in action. Rather than burying them in temporary cemeteries for return at a future date after the conclusion of the war, soldiers killed in action were immediately returned to the United States. This policy, known as concurrent return, remains in effect to this day.


Better transportation, communication, and laboratory techniques allow a higher rate of body identification in the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 than in previous conflicts. 96% of Americans killed in action were recovered, compared to 78% for both World War II and Korea. By the end of the war, only 28 bodies remained unidentified. All but one of them were identified by 1984, when the last one was interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns
Tomb of the Unknowns
The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified. It is located in Arlington National Cemetery in the United States...

. (Using mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

, in 1998 the last unknown was identified as Michael Blassie
Michael Blassie
First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie was an officer in the United States Air Force. Prior to identification of his remains, Blassie was the Unknown service member from the Vietnam War laid to rest at the Tomb of the Unknowns.After graduating from St. Louis University High School, Blassie...


Iraq and Afghanistan

The 54th Quartermaster Company and 111th Quartermaster Company are the Army's only standing, permanent mortuary affairs units. Mortuary affairs training takes place at Fort Lee, Virginia, and lasts about seven weeks. These soldiers search areas for hasty or unmarked graves, unburied dead, personal effects, and identification media. They also assist in preparation, preservation, and shipment of remains.

Major Mortuary affairs facilities are the US Army Central Identification Laboratory, in Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

 (CILHI) and the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs
Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs
The Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs is a Mortuary Affairs facility at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware housing the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center , which combines the functions of both Air Force Mortuary Affairs and Port Mortuary, historically known as Dover Port...

 at Dover Air Force Base
Dover Air Force Base
Dover Air Force Base or Dover AFB is a United States Air Force base located two miles southeast of the city of Dover, Delaware.-Units:...

. The former focuses on identifying remains from the Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam War, while the latter focuses on more recent conflicts.

Some of those who have volunteered to work with the dead will serve at collection points in Iraq and Afghanistan; others will work in the port mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Another small group will work with the 311th Quartermaster Company from Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

, a Reserve Mortuary Affairs unit, in Aberdeen, Maryland
Aberdeen, Maryland
As of the census of 2000, there were 13,842 people, 5,475 households, and 3,712 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,166.2 people per square mile . There were 5,894 housing units at an average density of 922.4 per square mile...

, at the Joint Personal Effects Depot (JPED). Here, soldiers will receive, inventory, process, clean, filter, and ship all items belonging to deceased or injured soldiers.

The 92Ms have cared for the majority of the more than 4,500 military casualties in Iraq
2003 invasion of Iraq
The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

 and Afghanistan. They operate under a code of conduct that's part scientific and part symbolic. Using the language of a medical examiner
Medical examiner
A medical examiner is a medically qualified government officer whose duty is to investigate deaths and injuries that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform post-mortem examinations, and in some jurisdictions to initiate inquests....

, they fill out forms describing and annotating every wound and marking on the remains they receive. They also "render honors" to each soldier in their care. The 92Ms make sure the deceased travel home feet-first and draped in a flag.

In 2008, the Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 lifted its ban on media coverage (especially photographs) of the return of the bodies of killed service members. Currently, news media may be present if the survivors of the dead give their consent. The ban had been in effect for 18 years, having been instituted in 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...

. However, the ban was waived on a large number of occasions, to the point that its existence only became widely known in 2004. When the ban was enforced at that time, it was widely criticized as politically-motivated.

Health issues

Studies have shown that mortuary affairs personnel have some of the highest rates of post traumatic stress disorder. "Analysis has revealed three psychological components of handling remains: "the gruesomeness," "an emotional link between the viewer and the remains," and "personal threats to the remains handler."
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that those involved with the removal and disposal of war-dead often have to deal with a great amount of psychological pressure later on in their lives, as well as at the time of their duties.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.