A longtime police officer is honored upon his retirement from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, where he leads a special station tasked with conducting ceremonies to honor the dead as they travel to their resting place final.
MDTA Police Officer Mike Dunn is retiring from his position at BWI Marshall Airport, where for the past eight years he has conducted dignified transfers – the ceremonial loading of the remains of American service members onto planes from passengers en route to their final funeral.
He will be honored at the Memorial Day observance at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium on Monday. Other Anne Arundel residents honored this year are U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sarah F. Burns, of Severna Park, who was among the crew members killed in a helicopter crash Aug. 31 during a Navy training mission off San Diego, as well as Aaron P. Fowler, a US Navy lieutenant and Naval Academy graduate, who died April 17 during military training at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
The ceremony will begin Monday at 10 a.m. Alan Walden of the American Flag Foundation, Inc. and Patriots of Fort McHenry will deliver the keynote address and host the ceremony.
Transfer ceremonies are primarily held for deceased service members, including those who die overseas, while in-country training, or if their remains are identified years after their death.
At his home in Pasadena, Dunn said the process of making arrangements was simple, but noted the ceremonies were emotionally intense – describing bittersweet moments when families reunited with their loved ones on the tarmac after years of dread. waiting for their return home.
Recently, he arranged a dignified transfer for a woman whose father’s remains were recently identified decades after he died in World War II. He had been killed just before the birth of his daughter in 1944.
“It’s the fact that she, for the first time, got to hug her dad,” Dunn said. Up close, he heard her say, “Welcome home, Dad.”
“The fact that she finally got to do this in her 60s was like, wow,” he said.
Dunn recalls another touching transfer years ago, when the sister of a sailor who was killed in the Pearl Harbor attack brought her brother home after his remains were identified. She was carrying a greeting card her brother had sent her in 1941, postmarked December 7, the day of the attack.
He said it was touching to see her face when she touched that coffin and how tightly she held the greeting card next to her.
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The airport is a favorite place for dignified transfers. Military branches lean toward BWI because of the airport’s proximity to Arlington National Cemetery, as well as “the way we do it,” Dunn said.
“We allow family to drive on the tarmac with us. The army arrives; they can bring family members to welcome them home,” he said, also noting that the airport allows tarmac video companies to broadcast transfer ceremonies to families who cannot attend. go to Maryland.
Since he started the process in 2014, Dunn has arranged more than 140 worthy transfers. He said the ceremonies are largely the work of the “BWI airport family” working together to make the event special. He called the arrangements a “family affair” between airport staff, airlines, the military and the families of those who died.
Usually, ceremonies include an announcement in the terminal prepared by Dunn, an honor guard, a fire crew presenting a water arch over the plane, and other military and airport officials present to pay their respects when the coffin is loaded on or off the plane. After his retirement, Dunn plans to continue volunteering as honor guards who attend ceremonies.
“I just put it all together,” he said. “It’s an honor and a privilege, it means so much to the family.”