Watch CBSN Live

John Glenn's remains at center of Air Force watchdog probe

Military mortician

A U.S. Air Force watchdog is investigating a report that a senior mortuary employee offered to show the remains of famed astronaut and Sen. John Glenn to military inspectors, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin confirmed Friday.

The allegations were first reported by the Military Times, citing an internal memo dated May 11.

In a statement Friday, an Air Force spokesman, Col. Patrick Ryder, said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson directed the military branch's inspector general's office to investigate the allegations.

During a weeklong inspection of the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware last winter, Defense Department inspectors were offered a chance to view Glenn's remains before they were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on April 6, Ryder said. Glenn died in December at the age of 95.

John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth and U.S. senator, dead at 95

The Military Times reports that William Zwicharowski, the mortuary's chief, made the offer to the inspectors twice, on Feb. 28 and on March 2.

Zwicharowski told The Associated Press Friday that Glenn's remains were treated with "impeccable care" and that he was proud of how he and his staff cared for them.

Ryder said that the inspectors declined the offer and didn't view the remains, according to the Defense Department.

"The Air Force takes extremely seriously its responsibility to fulfill the nation's sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families," Ryder said. "At the conclusion of the investigation, the Air Force will determine what further corrective actions, if any, may be necessary and appropriate. If any allegations of misconduct are substantiated, those involved will be held accountable."

John Glenn in his own words

In 2012, Zwicharowski told Martin that he was branded a troublemaker when he called for an outside investigation of the way the mortuary was run following accusations that the mortuary had mishandled the remains of fallen servicemembers.

The head of a federal agency created to protect whistleblowers at the time told Martin that Zwicharowski consequently was targeted by an escalating campaign of retaliatory personnel actions, all the way up to termination. But he was cleared and returned to his job.

Ryder said the mortuary passed last winter's inspection with a score of 94 percent.

View CBS News In