The plea of a military family

by Philip Barron on December 15, 2009 · 11 comments

The following letter came to us from Debbie DeMello, whose son John Borero died nine years ago:

John Borero

PFC John Borero

We have tried since January 12, 2000 to get someone to hear us, but our words have only fallen on the deaf ears of the newspapers, the TV station, Senator Patty Murray, and the President of the United States. A mother will go public with the truth about her son that was killed while in the 82nd airborne at FT Bragg, NC.

John grew up in Issaquah, Washington and joined the Army to protect his county. He was killed in a car accident just outside Fort Bragg, NC. Once the Army notified us of John’s death, we signed a legal document asking them to dress and prepare him for viewing. The Army had a contract with the Lafayette Funeral Home owned by Phyllis & Bobby Garvin in NC. They or someone else picked up our son but did not even care for him:, they were not even kind enough to clean and prepare his body. They had the Army Casualty Office, John Colton, and Sgt. Bob Hennis make up a special story that they had seen John and that he was so badly disfigured that a positive identification of our son could not be made. Later, we found out they did not do their job.

They put him into a body bag marked “unviewable” and sent him home to his mother.

The funeral home collected the money but did not do as they were asked by his parents (and their contractee, the Army). Bobby Garvin replied to my husband on a telephone call and said, “The Army gives me only so many hours to prepare him and we could not put him back together.” However, John was intact and could have been cared for. They saw John as a dark-skinned person and because of his ethnic background (Pacific Islander) said “no one will ever know if we keep the same story.” Well they do not know this mother.

We have clear pictures of this accident and it looks like he is just sleeping and his body was intact. These people are inhumane because they did not do their job nor could they speak the truth even under oath. They said our son had flaming tattoos when he did not. Did we receive our son or someone else?

This mother will never know, and she continues searching for her son everyday. I wear a heart medal around my neck and wonder if the ashes in it are of John’s.

John was later sent to a funeral home which we hired, Purdy & Waters in Lynnwood, Washington. We requested more then twenty times to see our son and the answer was always a “NO”. The bottom line was that it was their job to grant our request, but that request never followed through. Not being able to say “goodbye” to my child has caused me to never STOP searching.

After a five-year lawsuit with Purdy & Walters’ insurance company, “Uniservice Corporation,” we won the case and moved forward to educate the public with what has happened to us. We hope that this will never happen to another mother or loved one. However, it has not stopped the government and local mortuaries from doing their job incorrectly. When you ask the Army or any branch of service to dress your son, it should be done. If our son was handled this way, then how many of our men and women, whom happen to be our loved ones, have come home this way? How many haven’t even received the remains of their loved ones?

The Army gave the Garvin mortuary in FT Bragg, NC a government contract and paid them to prepare John for his mother and family. Instead, the morturary put him into a body bag with no clothes, did not clean him, and sent him home marked “unviewable.” These people should never touch a military person again, and the Army is to blame for having allowed this to happen. As for Purdy & Waters, they have to live with what they did to John, and what they have done to his mother. As for the judge that heard the arbitration case, I hope he can sleep at night because all he did was – as their eyewitness said – “slap the hands of the insurance company and let them go on.”

Surviving John are parents Debbie and Jon, and brother Daniel

Surviving John are parents Debbie and Jon, and brother Daniel

My letters to President Clinton, President Bush, Senator John Kerry, Dave Reichert, John Edwards, David Irons, (whom I’m certain remembers me) have met with no result. Senator Patty Murray and her assistant Muriel Gibson two years of us working with her only to spend our tax money and be told go away. If the case involved their child it would be on TV, and the coverage would not stop. When you ask the Army for answers, all they say is “CASE CLOSED.” What they have done is wrong.

I will never stop crusading to find the whole truth of what really happened to my son, nor will I stop until I receive justice for how my son was treated. Fort Bragg took all his personal things, cleaned out his room, and sent a few items home that needed a cleaning. They even took John’s clothes. We did not receive his watch, wallet, computer, games, jump medal, St. Christopher medal, or dog tags; the list goes on. They gave me someone else’s boots and uniform which did not even fit our son.

To the wonderful man that held our son’s hand until he died, you will be my angel forever.

As we move forward, I hope we are able to write a book of the truth, and what really goes on in a loved one’s heart. It affects a parent to lose their child without being able to say goodbye. Your heart will search for them until you die. If you are a mother, your children are your life. When you have them for twenty-one years and one day receive a picture of them dead, or when someone tells you that they are gone, you have to touch them or see them to know that it had really happened.

If this ever happened to your loved one, you should not have to ask twice: You are the boss and if you say “I want to see my child,” they have to let you say goodbye. Ask your loved ones to take pictures of their items, like our son did, and ask them to send them to you. This way, you will know just what they have and if those items are not returned, you will be able to ask for them.

We do not even know if we have received our son, and no one can answer that question. Please, help us get some type of closure. We ask anyone wishing to help us to contact Lt. Col. Anita Chapman at 703-325-5437 and ask her, on our behalf, to act on this matter. Any and all help would be appreciated.

All we want to do is lay our son to rest, and find peace. Someone out there knows something and we need your help.

We ask anyone who can help to please contact us.

1 Nicole December 23, 2009 at 5:29 am

I think that this situation is so messed up and the fact that no one is doing anything about it is so wrong. It makes a person wonder how many other military families have had the same thing happen to them and how many don’t even know it.

2 Jay in N.C. March 31, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Has there been further action? Has this family received any satisfaction at all?

3 Annabelle April 4, 2010 at 3:55 am

for some reason this smells of a person entering the black ops world. you know the deal…they find someone willing to go deep cover, fake his death then leave the family to their grief while their son serves his country incognito. don’t sneer at this. it happens, peeps.

if it is just a case of incompetence…as a 20 year military veteran i just wanna rip someones head off and drop a deuce down their neck!

either way i hope the family finds out what happened.

4 Deborah M DeMello April 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Nicole,Jay and Annabelle thank you for your responce. As of April 28,2010 we still do not know what happen. But the President can jump into this and call all families to the white house for a meeting. All I want to do is lay the correct person to rest. I want our son back and have the Army say they are sorry for what they have done. But keep praying for Lavina , John and all the rest that need to come home and I hope this President stands up to the Army, Navy,Marines and corrects the problem this year.

Mother of John Debbie Demello
Please call me with any information you may have.

5 S. Nelson May 5, 2010 at 5:27 am

I don’t understand why they didn’t identify him with the blood they take from us when we enlist. We have enough DNA on file for Army to identify us even if our head, hands, and feet are missing.

6 Deborah M DeMello July 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Hi Jay

Debbie Demello here mother of John Borero. We have not heard anything back from President Obama or Col Annita Chapmen. She has informaed my daughter that she is leaving and will not be on our sons case. Easy cop out. We are still waitting for Seator Akaka to anser us. Please if you have the means keep the word going. Myself and the Johnson family need answers.
God bless
Mother of John

7 Moonlightowl October 16, 2010 at 10:29 am

I am saddened by the story this family has endured. I would also like to point out that if what I wanted to do is see my sons remains. There is not a person on this planet that would prevent me. Secondly, if they had questions about this persons identity, why was he cremated and did the family agree to this.

I agree with Annabell on this. My cousin who shall of course remain nameless worked in “black ops”, their job was North Korean Radio Traffic. As far as our family knew, they were in the IT department of the military. Given the fact that his personal effects were not returned. That he was reported “deceased” in a non military accident solves a lot of problems and requirements by the military.

I do not want to create false hope. I do not wish to miss lead. According to what I have read in this article, there are some basic protocols I have not seen this family mention. The Army’s response is less than they would give for a soldier killed in combat. Has the family sought out the help of the American Legion or the VA in locating his personal effects? Again, I am inclined to agree with Annabelle. Your son has the precursors to move him into a “black ops” unit with his jump training and so forth. If he had good grades in school, played sports, never had any legal trouble and showed above average mental stability. It is more likely that he was recruited into a secretive program than he was killed in an “off base” auto accident where the military then completely failed to do their due diligence through graves registration. That his commanding officer did not see to his ” troops” personal effects or that there was no personal contact from them to you is more telling. Did any of his unit communicate with you? If they have, did they say that they saw his remains? Saw who cleared his personal items off base? Did he live on base in barracks housing? All these seemingly small things are tell tale to the bigger picture.

To you I wish to express my sorrow at this ordeal you have been put through. My thoughts are with you and my prayers for peace in your hearts and mind as you try and figure out what became of your son.

8 Nicole Demello November 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm

To those who have responded to this plea,
First, I would like to say that I am Nicole Demello and John Borero was my step-brother. He would be the same age as me today with myself being only a few months older than him. The last time I saw him we were in the 9th grade. Today I am in my 30′s. I wish to address a few things that have been said and answer some questions. First to Annabell and Moonlightowl, in response to the possibility that my step-brother could have been chosen for a mission and his death was faked, believe me the thought has crossed my mind many times. The question someone asked about identifying my brother through his blood, the military has a lot of excuses for this and they do not even know exactly how he was identified, if it was through fingerprints or just by his license. There are pictures of the accident and of my brother and you can see that it is him. I am not saying that pictures can’t be faked but I just don’t honestly believe that my brother would put my family through this, he was the type that called his mom all the time, emailed her almost everyday and this is just totally out of character for him. As for him being cremated and my parents request to see him, they did everything possible, my brother Daniel even attempted to get the body bag open to see his brother but was interrupted and not to mention there was a lock on it. The care that was given to his remains was so bad and the chemicals they used on his remains made it impossible for my family to see his remains without serious injury due to the fact that these chemicals were so strong. My parents felt that they had no other alternative than to have him cremated, the funeral home pushed for this, they preyed on the fact that my family was grieving and counted on the fact that they were not thinking clearly at the time. Also the funeral home that was hired by my parents could have at any time stood up and said something about the condition my brothers remains were in when they received him from the military. They chose not to. There are so many questions that have not been answered and we as a family will not stop until we get those answers. I have dedicated myself to assisting my step-mother in any way that I can to get the answers that we deserve. I hope this has helped answer some of the questions that some of you have asked, and it is with greater hope that you continue to support us in this fight and maybe even pass the word along to family and friends. The more people that know about this situation, the better and we can all stand up for soldiers like John and Ms. Johnson. We need to look at the big picture, that if they did this to us and the Johnson family, how many more families have they done this to?

With Great Appreciation,
Nicole A. Demello

9 Lisa Stevenson November 10, 2010 at 8:46 am

I am so sorry for your losts! In 1986, my friend named Robert King was a private serving in the army’s basic training when he reportedly died from a heart attack. Before his death, he brought home a young lady (also serving) that he was dating to meet his family and friends. They were engaged to get married. She had recently broken up with another officer, of a higher ranking, who she said was bitter about their break-up. It was only a few months later that his family received the news of his passing and shortly after, his remains. On the day of his funeral we all noticed the HOLE IN HIS FOREHEAD that was filled in. His mother Janice was distraught because she knew that her son who was only 19, didn’t have any type of heart trouble. He had recently passed the army’s physical fitness test.
She tried to get answers but without luck. We all believe that the army covered up his death!! Oh, and the fiance’ was never heard from again!

10 MRS> JAM April 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I swear so much about the US and its ARMED forces Disguest me. There should be an outside group who is dedicated to finding all the LIVES that have died and the surroundings around them..I mean these are ppl who put there lives on the line for ppl like us. My heart truly goes out to all who have been affected. My heart truly cries for you guys. I pray that god eases your pain and just know GOD will avenge all of the lives that have been lost innocently. May godbless you and keep you.

11 October Mist July 8, 2011 at 12:18 am

I think it is appalling that there is no major news interest in the Lavena case. I was not there but I am certain that this woman DID NOT commit suicide. No woman would put acid on her genitals. Where is that contractor? I cant believe that so many female soldiers are being raped by fellow soldiers and the public is vastly unaware of it. This is horrible and totally unacceptable. Something needs to be done to protect female soldiers who are serving their country.

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