transport/transfer tubes

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Aug 23 03:30:37 UTC 2005

On Mon, 22 Aug 2005 21:38:19 -0500, Dave Hause <dwhause at JOBE.NET> wrote:

>If I were going to bet, I'd bet that this actually should have been
>"transfer cases" which are sealable aluminum cases like very big coffins,
>used to put a body (in a body bag) inside, sometimes with ice outside the
>bag.  Air Force thing as that's the only way they (used to when I helped
>unload them at Dover) transport bodies by air.

Hmmm, now I wonder if the original Toronto Star article bemoaning the
euphemization of "body bags" got it wrong. Perhaps the reporter
misconstrued the referent of "transfer case" and changed "case" to

But today's military doesn't even use the words "body bags" — a term in
common usage during the Vietnam War, when 58,000 Americans died.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon began calling them "human
remains pouches" and it now refers to them as "transfer tubes."

I don't see any military websites that mention "transfer tubes" (let alone
"transport tubes"), though "transfer cases" are easy enough to find, such
as this photo caption (the cases pictured are as Dave describes them):

Two joint service honor guards remove flag-draped transfer cases
containing remains believed to be those of Americans lost during the wars
in Korea and Vietnam from an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during a
ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, on Nov. 20, 2000.

There was also a New Yorker article last year about the Army's 54th
Mortuary Affairs Company (known as the "ninety-two mikes" from the
designation 92M). Again, no "transfer tubes", only coffin-like "transfer
cases". And here's what it has to say about body bags:

Sometimes a unit that has lost soldiers in battle is in no condition to
recover its dead, and the nearest ninety-two mikes venture out to gather
up the fallen. Usually, though, a unit delivers its own dead to the
collection point, in what is officially called a "human-remains pouch,"
made of thick, rubberized canvas with a steel zipper and loop handles
along the sides. Everybody but the ninety-two mikes calls these body bags.

So my guess is that the Toronto Star bollixed the story, and it then
spread around the blogosphere (with the already incorrect "transfer tubes"
mutating further to "transport tubes"). It all seems rather unnecessary,
since there was already the sanitized "human-remains pouch" if one were
looking for military euphemisms to get incensed about.

--Ben Zimmer

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