Mortician accused of disrespecting John Glenn's remains speaks out

DOVER, Del. -- This Memorial Day weekend, as Americans honor those who served their country, an Air Force mortician is being accused of disrespecting one of our greatest military heroes: space pioneer John Glenn.

"I just want to say I'm embarrassed for my profession to put that out there, and kind of heartbroken, and I hope the family's not offended in any way," Bill Zwicharowski said.

Zwicharowski is a mortician at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where the fallen come home from America's wars. Now he's accused of failing to treat the astronaut and senator's remains with respect and dignity.

"I was issued a letter on Monday afternoon, saying I was being investigated by the IG," Zwicharowski said, referring to the Pentagon Air Force inspector general.

The inspector general's investigation was ordered after an inspection of the mortuary in March. Zwicharowski offered to show Pentagon officials Glenn's remains, which were being kept at Dover before his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. One official called that "clearly inappropriate and personally shocking."

Zwicharowski says he only wanted to show the inspectors the embalming procedures used on remains that are kept for months. Glenn had died in December. His widow wanted him buried in April, on their wedding anniversary.

"[This] had nothing to do with John Glenn," Zwicharowski said. "It had to do with the preparation of the remains."

When CBS News first met Zwicharowski five years ago, he had blown the whistle on the mishandling and misplacing of remains of the fallen. He had been reassigned to desk duty, and an Air Force lawyer who reviewed the evidence concluded that Zwicharowski's superiors were "out to get this guy for some reason."

He was given his job back, but now, once again, he's been suspended. 

This time, he suspects the Pentagon is trying to get even for the trouble he caused before.

"Well, I can't say for sure, but it sure is looking that way," Zwicharowski said.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.