ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Army is investigating a woman's claim that a soldier's flag-draped casket was placed in an airport baggage cart with other luggage while being transferred between airline flights.
"The Army is always concerned with treating all of our fallen comrades' remains with the utmost dignity and respect," spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Arata said in a statement Thursday.
Cynthia Hoag, 56, a former Army reservist, said she was waiting for a flight at Rochester International Airport on Oct. 27 when she saw the coffin taken off a commercial flight along with passengers' luggage. A uniformed soldier accompanied the coffin as it was placed in a baggage car and transported to another flight, she said.
"At the very least, couldn't there have been a hearse to transport the fallen soldier?" Hoag asked in an essay in Tuesday's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. "At the very least, couldn't there have been a group of soldiers to receive one of their own?
"It was a very sobering, sad experience for all of us," wrote Hoag, who said she witnessed the episode from a terminal window while waiting for a flight along with her sister-in-law and two friends. "Please don't let this happen again to any soldier. Let's not treat our fallen troops like baggage."
Her account prompted Monroe County's executive, Maggie Brooks, to write a letter of her own to the Pentagon, asking it to change the policy for transporting the coffins of war casualties.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, said Hoag's description doesn't correlate with military procedure.
Remains of soldiers killed in Iraq are taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, then usually flown to a soldier's home, Smith said. Military escorts accompany each flight and when a casket reaches the home area, it is met by an honor guard of two people and then transported to a funeral home, she said.
Airport director David Damelio disputed Hoag's claims, saying a coffin wouldn't fit into a cart loaded with luggage.
Calls to Hoag's home in Dansville, 50 miles south of Rochester, went unanswered Thursday.