Response to Marine Barracks Escort Section, March 31, 2018

Aston, PA

What do you say when a mother would ask if their son was in the sealed casket?

When I served I was a survivor assistance officer and I had 24 hours to make contact with the family after the notification team had been there. It was my job to make funeral arrangements, arrange for an Honor Guard, and make sure that all the insurance payments were made to the family.

Their son was killed in an ambush in Vietnam and the company had to retreat from enemy fire. It was a week before they could get back and retrieve the bodies. Needless to say it was a sealed coffin.

A sister who had married rich came in and wanted the coffin opened to make sure her brother was in the coffin. I went to the funeral director to find out what is involved when a sealed coffin is unsealed. He explained that you need an oxyacetylene torch to cut through the metal as it is welded shut and that everything inside the coffin is burned beyond recognition. To me, that was not an option.

I proceeded to call the coffin manufacturer to get the weight of the empty coffin. I then called the railroad to get a shipping weight of the coffin. The difference in weight between the empty coffin and the shipped coffin satisfied the family that there was a body in the coffin. It might not have been her son but at that point they probably would not have recognized him anyway but I did prove there was a body in the coffin and that satisfied everyone involved, especially the sister.

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