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The disposal of war criminals

The late Rex Morgan, with whom I had the pleasure of attending the University of Pennsylvania in the late ’40s, was also a member (I was a “meatball” or scrub) of Penn’s powerful football team.

Rex, a junior officer with the Graves Registration Command, received sealed orders after the end of World War II.

He was ordered to Nuremberg. When he arrived, he learned that he would be responsible for the top-secret disposition of the bodies of all Nazi war criminals who received a death sentence.

In carrying out his orders, all the executed Nazis were given post-obituary names (the names of football players and the coach at Penn).

After they were hanged and placed in caskets (in the middle of the night), each one of their hearses, under heavy guard, were taken to previously selected top-secret grave sites. Here they were secretly buried to avoid any possibility of neo-Nazi shrines.

In remembering this just after World War II, I am equally grateful that Osama bin Laden’s now thoroughly certified as actual body was consigned to the sea, rather than to any known burial site, which his fellow terrorists – or terrorist governments – might use as a shrine.

That bin Laden was allowed Islamic burial vesture and prayer may have been enraging to some. But it is in the tradition of the United States, in which prior to execution the condemned are allowed the ministry of chaplains.

I’m also both frustrated – but understandably relieved – that there has been no U.S. media mention of which I am aware of the identity of any of the Navy SEALs who carried out one of the most courageous and enormously important operations in U.S. military history.

I’m frustrated because I would like to know all about each and every one of these heroes. But I fully recognize that anonymity is one of the main reasons why they are able to accomplish so much.

In a valuable article, headlined “SEALs go unnoticed – and like it that way,” the Washington Times’ Paige Cunningham reported the following:

“Members of the elite Navy SEALs team that carried out a painstakingly crafted assault that led to the death of Osama bin Laden won’t be greeted with fanfare when they return home to Virginia Beach.

“Don’t be mistaken. Their friends, neighbors and families would be proud of the men – if they knew who they were. Specialized SEALs operate in such secret that even their wives won’t know whether they played a role in the mission that ended a decade-long search for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“‘Despite their feat, you won’t hear much about it around town,’ said Mary Ellen Baldwin, executive director of the Navy League of Hampton Roads.

“‘There won’t be anything publicly done for a major welcoming of them because of the fact of the confidentiality,’ Ms. Baldwin said. ‘There won’t be any bravado going on. It’s very low-key. It really is. It’s just the nature of what they’ve signed up to do.’

“Stationed at the Naval Air Station Oceana in the heart of Virginia Beach, the team reportedly spent months practicing the operation, which involved landing inside the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden had been living, a mission that ended in death for the al-Qaida leader.

“‘With worldwide attention focused on the mission, the SEALs – and particularly the highly trained, highly skilled Team 6 that executed the operation – are getting an unusual dose of attention. That’s because it’s rare that anyone hears of the work they do every day,’ Ms. Baldwin said.

“‘They do this 24-7 all year long, and they’re unsung heroes,’ she said.”

I feel next to certain that almost all of my fellow Americans join in saluting this small corps of such spectacular bravery and marvelously commendable security.