Valley family buries daughter twice
Linda Gillam still questions why her daughter died on a military base. She still wonders why no one was arrested in connection with her daughter's death.
But most of the time, she can't understand why the military treated her daughter's body with what she calls "disrespect."
"They abused her body," said Gillam. "They neglected it. I'm Catholic. She deserves to be buried in one piece."
Shauna Lynn Ward was uncertain what she wanted from life, so she enlisted in the Army. She did her basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She trained to become a chemical operations specialist. But during that training, she suffered stress fractures in both feet. Her parents say she spent six months in medical rehab, hopped up on painkillers.
"I didn't know the military would just keep her loaded up on Percoset so so she got addicted to them," said Todd Gillam, her father.
Ward then did a short stint in drug rehab, but eventually ended up back on the base at Fort Richardson in Alaska.
On Oct. 15, 2007, the 21-year-old was found dead in her barracks.
"I just lost it," said Todd Gillam. "I couldn't believe it. I was just in shock."
Ward was given a military funeral in Arizona at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.
"Oh God," said Linda Gillam. "I hope and pray to God that people I know don't have to go through it. It's one of the worst pain anybody could feel. It's a pain you never get over. I relive that day. I relive her funeral. I relive her viewing. Everything."
The Gillams grieved. And more than two months after they buried their only child, they got a phone call that once again turned their life upside down.
"Jan. 2 we got a call from the casualty officer wanting to know what we wanted to do with her heart and brain," said Todd Gillam.
"Oh my God are you kidding me right now?" said Linda Gillam. "I was devastated. My daughter, I thought she was whole. I buried her thinking she was in one piece."
It's sometimes common practice to keep the heart and brain for further study. But in this case, the military forgot to notify Ward's parents they were keeping her vital organs.
Linda tape recorded her conversation with an Armed Forces Medical Examiner on March 4, 2008.
"We are changing our system," the medical examiner said in the recording. "That is why you got the call. We are changing."
"Yeah but I got the call after I buried her," said Linda Gillam in the recording. "I thought she was intact when I buried her."
"That was an oversight on our part," said the medical examiner. "We normally put that the heart and brain were maintained for further examination. I don't see that."
The military apology offered little comfort to Todd and Linda, who had to bury their daughter for a second time.
"We were not allowed near the grave," said Linda Gillam. "We had to stay in our cars near the road. I saw a salute and the funeral director handed down the infant casket and he put it on top of her and that was the end of it. Such disrespect to me. She deserved better than that."
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