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The Army Promised Her a Grave Beside Her Husband—But Buried Someone Else There

Mary Dowling, now age 83, by no means remarried after her husband Robert Dowling was killed in Vietnam on Jan. 12, 1966. Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day for 56 years, she introduced flowers to her husband’s grave. She deliberate on being buried in the future in a plot subsequent to Bob’s grave.

However, final November, Mary visited as common, solely to note a momentary grave marker and freshly dug earth within the plot subsequent to her husband’s resting place. Someone else had been buried there.

A Tragic Death

Robert Dowling, a UH-1B Huey pilot from Centralia, Wash., was flying a mission alongside the South Vietnamese coast on Jan. 12, 1966, when he noticed what gave the impression to be a physique on the seashore. He realized too late that it was a dummy—a lure set by the Viet Cong. Dowling’s chopper was shot down over the water.

Dowling and his co-pilot managed to emerge from the sinking helicopter. However, passing up the chance to be rescued to permit his co-pilot to be saved first, Dowling was killed by a hammerhead shark.

Robert Dowling was killed in Vietnam after the Viet Cong lured his helicopter into a lure. (Courtesy VVMF Wall of Faces Memorial)

Dowling’s stays have been buried on the cemetery at Fort Lewis, Wash. close to the place he and his spouse of seven years, Mary, had lived when he first joined the Army. Every yr Fort Lewis, later Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), despatched Mary a letter asking if she wished to retain the plot subsequent to her husband’s grave. Mary all the time answered “yes.” Once these letters stopped arriving, Mary’s 4 grownup kids would periodically affirm with JBLM that Mary’s plot was safe.

An Error

Shocked to find another person buried within the plot, Mary and her household reached out instantly to JBLM. In conferences with Mary and her kids over the previous few months, the Army admitted its error.

In a assertion to Tacoma’s News Tribune newspaper, a JBLM consultant acknowledged that Mary’s reservation had been misplaced and expressed the Army’s remorse. The essential sticking level is that, by Army laws, an interment is taken into account “final and permanent,” and JBLM is unwilling to maneuver the serviceman presently in Mary’s grave.

Complicating issues additional is the truth that there’s little or no room within the plot subsequent to Bob’s. Placing a casket there dangers disturbing different stays. The plot is presently occupied with cremated stays because of the lack of house.

Possible Solutions

The Army initially provided Mary the choice of being buried in a completely different plot close by or having her casket (or cremated stays) positioned on high of her husband’s. The Army additionally re-examined the house within the burial plots and realized there’s sufficient room for Mary’s casket to suit beside her husband’s. Thus JBLM has not too long ago provided a new resolution: a side-by-side burial, however with Mary’s title etched on Bob’s gravestone as a substitute of her personal.

Mary has rejected all these choices, holding agency within the perception the Army ought to honor its dedication; she desires the plot again. The Army continues to be negotiating with Mary and her household. Despite JBLM’s good-faith efforts to resolve the difficulty, Mary is adamant the Army maintain their promise to a Gold Star household made practically 60 years in the past.

Nearly misplaced within the controversy is the lingering toll of Bob’s demise. In an article within the Centralia Chronicle from 2006, his widow Mary mentioned, “I think of him still all the time. Forty years doesn’t change it. It could be five years. It doesn’t matter.”


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