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CANFIELD Body is home after 34 years



Published: Mon, June 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Canfield man's remains were wrapped in a blanket and shipped in a plywood box.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CANFIELD -- Army officials say they offered to pay to send Jerry Degnan's remains to his brother in Canfield earlier this year.

But Ronald Degnan recently got a $700 bill from a mortuary in Hawaii for the costs of preparing and shipping the remains.

Ronald picked up his brother's remains in late April. The body was wrapped in an Army blanket and shipped, along with a flag, in a plywood box to an airport in Cleveland.

"That's not what he died for," Ronald said.

Jerry was a civilian working for a military contractor when he was killed in a helicopter crash over South Vietnam in August 1967.

His body went unidentified until late 1999.

Ronald will pay the bill, but he feels the Army abandoned his brother by not paying for the shipping costs or the funeral.

Jerry was buried in late May in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Boardman.

"When a civilian goes into harm's way, he's on his own, I guess," Degnan said. "That is something I would like to see addressed."

Background: Born in Youngstown, the brothers are graduates of Austintown Fitch High School and lived together in Canfield before Jerry left for Vietnam.

There were no other siblings.

"Apparently, the Army does not want to have any jurisdiction over civilians," Degnan said.

Lt. Col. Paul Bethke, the chief of the Army's mortuary affairs and casualty support division, said the Army tries to treat all remains with respect.

He said most contractors include provisions for the shipment and burial of their body in their work agreements with the military.

The company Jerry worked for, Decca Navigation System Inc., dissolved before his body was identified. Bethke said the Army has been trying to locate Jerry's contract to determine what provisions it included for shipping.

Harry Campbell, chief of the Army's disposition branch, said there are no federal statutes permitting the Army to provide for funerals or military escorts for civilian contractors killed in war.

He said the Army must adhere to the statutes when spending money.

Shipping options: Bethke said the Army contacted Degnan earlier this year to discuss options in having his brother shipping home.

"It should be invisible to the family," Bethke said of the shipping costs. "Money is not an object."

Bethke said, however, the Army would not accommodate a request from Degnan to ship the remains by Federal Express from Hawaii to Canfield.

When the Army refused the request, the Canfield man had the body sent to the mortuary in Hawaii. The Army wouldn't pay the shipping costs once the body was moved there, the colonel said.

Degnan said he was never contacted by the Army and the Army did not notify him when they moved Jerry's body from an identification laboratory to the mortuary.

He says he didn't know the body was shipped "until the plane was in the air."

Degnan said he hopes military officials will learn from his case and change the procedures used to deal with civilians killed in war. He said the government should establish an account for each civilian contractor to pay for arrangements.

In addition, Degnan said, he would like the government to take more responsibility for the lives of the civilian contractors who risk their lives in war.

"Nobody really wants to be responsible for a civilian," he said.

hill@vindy.com




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