W.Va. veteran's family had to hold visitation service for loved one without his body

Chad Wolfe died unexpectedly while on a trip to Atlanta last week. Family members say his body did not make it to his visitation service after an issue with Delta Air Lines. (Courtesy the Wolfe family)

A Charleston veteran's family is upset and wanting answers from Delta Air Lines after they had to hold a wake for their loved one without his body.

The family said they are speaking out publicly because they don't want it to happen to anyone else.

Chad Wofle, 40, died unexpectedly in his sleep last Wednesday while visiting friends in Atlanta.

Delta was to return his body to Charleston on Saturday night, a day before his friends and family were set to come together to celebrate his life and say goodbye. Wolfe's body never made it to the visitation service, and his family wants to know why and what needs to be done to stop it from happening again.

Judy Wolfe never thought she would have to bury her son, let alone say goodbye to an empty casket.

"He was my baby. At 40, he was still my baby," she said.

Wolfe was a University of Charleston graduate and U.S. Air Force veteran. He had a Delta round-trip ticket for his weeklong vacation in Atlanta and was set to return on Sunday.

A day after his death, Delta confirmed with Wolfe's family that it would transport his body as cargo back to Charleston and would arrive on Saturday night, a day before his viewing service.

"The flight came as it was supposed to. He did not," his sister, Kara Garten said.

Allen Wolfe, Chad's father, said it put the family in a difficult situation.

"We had to make the decision of what to do and how to do (it), and it was very hard," Allen Wolfe said.

Garten said the family wanted to postpone it "just because we wanted him there, but we had so many families that could not be there for Monday."

Hundreds of friends and family gathered to say goodbye to Wolfe at his visitation. His mother recalled the heartbreaking moment a Vietnam veteran wanted to pay his respects.

"He whispered in my ear, he said, 'I would like to salute the veteran. Is that a problem?' I said, 'No, Danny, that's not a problem.' And I didn't have the heart to tell him that Chad wasn't there, that it was just the casket with the flag draped," his mother said.

The family said Delta charged them more than $600 for the cargo transport and initially refused to reimburse Wolfe's unused ticket home.

"I have been told that they are looking into it. Things will have to change, an action plan will be developed, is what I've been told. However, we haven't personally been told why it happened," Garten said.

They said they are not upset about the money, they just wanted Wolfe home.

"We don't want anyone else to have to go through what we've been through," Garten said.

Wolfe's body did arrive in time for his funeral service on Monday. He was buried at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute.

Delta representatives issued this statement to Eyewitness News:

"First and foremost, we are deeply saddened by the passing of this veteran and we have shared our condolences with his family. We take this situation very seriously and Delta leaders at the highest levels are engaged. Delta has a long history of supporting the U.S. Armed Forces community and we are proud to work alongside more than 10,000 colleagues who are veterans or are actively serving."
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