DECATUR — The experience of Harristown sailor Logan Palmer’s family motivated U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis to call for a change in military policy that would ease travel for fallen service members’ families meeting their loved ones' remains at Dover Air Force Base.
Palmer, 23, was among 10 sailors killed Aug. 21 after the USS John S. McCain collided with another ship near Singapore. His family sought funding from an outside organization to pay for their travel to meet Palmer’s remains, Davis, R-Taylorville, said in a statement.
If Palmer had died in combat, the U.S. Department of Defense would have covered his family’s travel expenses, Davis said. Waivers are granted for deaths outside of combat, but only upon request.
“I am urging the DoD to change this policy so there is no question that families of our fallen will be taken care of,” Davis said. “The last thing they need to worry about after the death of a loved one is trying to cut through bureaucratic red tape within the Pentagon.”
Davis said that he and other members of Congress representing sailors on the USS McCain sent the letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Palmer, a Sangamon Valley High School graduate, was an interior communications electrician on the the ship. He and nine other sailors who died were all in their sleeping quarters at the time of the collision, according to a report the Navy released Nov. 1.
Hundreds attended Palmer's funeral Sept. 11 in Life Foursquare Church in Decatur. He was buried with full military honors in Harristown Cemetery. He was posthumously promoted to petty officer 2nd class.
In its 72-page report, the Navy cited multiple ways in which the collision of the USS McCain and another collision involving the USS Fitzgerald in June might have been avoided. The Navy described in detail the circumstances leading up to the collisions and blamed "complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance" for the outcome.
As a result of the two deadly accidents, eight top Navy officers, including the 7th Fleet commander, were fired from their jobs, and a number of other sailors received reprimands or other punishment that was not publicly released. Among them, the commander and executive officer of the USS John S. McCain were relieved of their duties and reassigned last month.
Davis appeared at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Sept. 7 to press a Navy officer for answers about providing better communication and services to families such as the Palmers. During that encounter, Davis raised his concerns about the Palmers’ travel with Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations.
Moran said at the time that the Navy has a process in place to handle those flights, but "we did not get the government to move as fast as we should have," and he apologized.
Davis said he eventually sought help from the House committee's staff after trying unsuccessfully to find out more about Logan Palmer from other channels.
"Getting information on Logan took too much time and it involved way too many people," he said in September.
The full text of the letter is below:
November 9, 2017
The Honorable Jim Mattis
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Mattis,
We write concerning current Department of Defense (DoD) policy that does not permit the use of official DoD travel funds for family members to view the remains of fallen servicemembers who have perished in noncombat operations. We strongly oppose this restriction of official travel funds.
On August 21, 2017, 10 sailors lost their lives when the USS John McCain collided with a merchant vessel off the coast of Singapore. One of the sailors lost was Petty Officer Logan Palmer of Decatur, Illinois. At the request of the medical examiner, the Navy brought Mr. Palmer's remains to Dover Air Force Base. Due to current DoD policy, however, Mr. Palmer's family was not afforded government sponsored transportation and was therefore forced to pursue funding from an outside organization to pay for their travel to view his remains at Dover Air Force Base.
Under current DoD policy, the Armed Forces may only cover travel expenses to Dover Air Force Base for family of servicemembers who lost their lives during combat operations. We therefore request that the policy be changed to include noncombat operations when the remains are brought to Dover Air Force Base.
Our servicemembers and their families make great sacrifices to protect our freedoms every day. These families should not have to rely on an outside organization to be provided the opportunity to view the remains of a fallen servicemember at Dover Air Force Base.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request. We look forward to your response.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.