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Dover Air Force Base Expanding Mortuary

January 26, 1991

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) _ An expansion of the military’s largest mortuary is under way at Dover Air Force Base to handle casualties from the Persian Gulf war, officials said Saturday.

Two temporary steel-frame structures totaling 13,000 square feet are being built behind the mortuary. They will be used to identify and prepare war dead for burial, Capt. Christian Geisel, base spokesman, said Saturday.

The permanent 30,000-square-foot mortuary can prepare 100 remains per day and has storage space for 1,000.

Geisel would not say how many more bodies could be handled in the new buildings. Refrigerated vans will be leased if more space is needed, he said.

Construction of the buildings began the week war broke out. On Jan. 15, the deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, the base denied plans to expand.

″It would be safe to say senior planning officials″ made the decision, said Air Force Capt. Sam Grizzle, a Pentagon spokesman. ″I don’t have specifics on exactly when or who made the decision.″

The buildings are expected to be completed within three weeks.

Casualties from Operation Desert Storm will come straight from the Persian Gulf to the base mortuary. Usually, remains are identified and embalmed before they reach Dover, where they are prepared for burial.

Geisel said remains have come to the base since the fighting began. None were combat casualties. The Pentagon lists seven non-combat U.S. deaths during Operation Desert Storm.

A week ago, the Department of Defense announced that the traditional honors arrival ceremonies will not be held for war casualties during the Persian Gulf war. The ceremonies were not held during the Vietnam conflict. From 1966 to 1973, the mortuary handled the remains of 21,693 troops from the Vietnam War.

Thirty military personnel from all branches of the armed services have been assigned to the base to help the nine-member mortuary staff. Geisel said more personnel will be added as needed.

Geisel said the Department of Defense is also providing medical, dental and fingerprinting experts to help with the identification of remains.

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