Maybe it's because they live just a few miles from a stone memorial to Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's severed left arm. But when a group of residents from Virginia's Northern Neck heard that the cremated body parts of American troops had been dumped unceremoniously in a local landfill, they knew what to do: Mark the place - rotting garbage and all - as sacred ground.
"People bring trash here. That's what it is, a dump," said Richard Lorey, an Army veteran who lives a few miles from the King George County Landfill just east of Fredericksburg. "But this is where our fallen heroes ended up, and this is where we should honor them."
And so a year after their sometimes controversial efforts began, Lorey and a group of several dozen gathered Sunday to dedicate the landfill as the final resting place of the partial remains of at least 272 U.S. troops killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They were placed here by the Air Force in a quiet practice first reported last year by The Washington Post.
The practice has ended, but the remains are still there. And now they are getting some home-grown military honors.
In the slanting autumn sun, uniformed military personnel and VFW members gathered outside the landfill gates. A high school trumpeter blew taps. An American Legion motorcycle drill team carried billowing U.S. flags on a lap around the interior of the landfill.
Gari-Lynn Smith, the widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott Smith, whose remains had been dumped there, was on hand to unveil a plaque that honors the presence of "American service members known but to God."
Smith, who was instrumental in uncovering the scandal, was both appreciative and angry in her remarks. "Scott, I love you and I miss you every day. I know you deserve more than this," she said from the podium.