Army Cannot Locate Records of Bodylift

With few limited exceptions, no office or command within the U.S. Army has been able to locate any records of its role during the airlift of bodies from Jonestown to the United States.

Despite the documented presence of Army personnel during the operation through the Joint Humanitarian Task Force, most offices and commands within the military service replied to recent Freedom of Information Act requests with findings of “No Record.” According to one FOIA caseworker who tried to locate an appropriate office to process one request, the bodylift operation was carried out by personnel who responded to the urgent call for volunteers, acting quickly and without regard for paperwork.

Among the commands that found no records are: the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, the Army Center for Military History, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Inter-American Affairs, and the Directorate for Freedom of Information and Security Review, all at the Pentagon; the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; the Criminal Investigation Command in Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and the Total Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Virginia. Requests were also referred to the National Archives, which similarly found no records.

The U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Lee, Virginia located and released a four-page memo from December 1978 describing a meeting which discussed the problems encountered during the bodylift. The memo cites the “governing authorities” of the State Department and the FBI, due to the “civilian nature of the disaster,” and the role of the Air Force as a directing force, due to its “organizational posture.”

FOIA requests are still pending before the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, and the U.S. Army South in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico

The editors of the jonestown report also filed FOIA requests with the two Army bases known to have been involved in the bodylift operation.

In early October, the Historian’s Office at the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Center at Fort Bliss, Texas reported the discovery of “one very small [undated] entry in a history of 1978.” The paragraph listed eight soldiers from Fort Bliss, headed by an acting assistant for the Army Graves Registration Task Force, who went to Dover AFB to assist in identifying the bodies of the Jonestown dead.

Officials at the second base, Fort McClellan in Alabama, could find no records.

In addition, we recently filed an FOIA request with the Department of Veterans Affairs for copies of any psychological evaluations or disability claims made by military personnel as a result of their involvement in the bodylift. That request is currently pending before the agency.

Finally, we filed a request with the National Personnel Records Center for the service records of former Army Sgt. Jeff Brailey, whose book, The Ghosts of November, describes his participation in the bodylift. That request, filed with the cooperation of Mr. Brailey, is also pending.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 16th, 2014.
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