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Friday, February 27, 2009

Flag Drapped Coffins

UPDATE  Here is the front page story from The Lowell Sun.  Local people quoted.

"Beat the Press," after dealing with the demise of The Rocky Mountain Spotted Rag talked about press access at Dover AFB, Delaware, for returning Service Members who have died overseas.  Their title, "The Pentagon relaxes its ban on photographing flag-draped coffins."

But, the relaxation is not very large.  Quoting the Pentagon News Release:
The Defense Department will allow the news media to photograph the flag-draped caskets of fallen U.S. troops returning home if their families agree, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Ms Emily Rooney claims to be "hard line" on this.  She is.  And, she is wrong.

This is actually a relatively new situation.  In the past we have buried our dead in the land where they died. There are a number of Cemeteries in Europe.  The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in France, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, plus a monument with the names of 1,557 Missing in Action, some of whom have subsequently been recovered.  We even have a Cemetery in Mexico City, for the dead from the Mexican War, including 750 who were not otherwise identified.

If we are to continue to return the bodies of those who died overseas--and we will continue--the families deserve their space during this traumatic period in their lives.  The Media is not invited to accompany the notifying officer during the initial notification.  The return of the coffins falls within that same period of grief.  If the family wishes to allow a press intrusion, then fine, allow it.  If they don't, then the press should look away and find their story elsewhere--and the information is plainly available.

The information on deaths (combat and other) is available from the Pentagon every time a Service Member is killed, or a Service Member previously Missing in Action (MIA) is returned to his or her loved ones.  If the press needs to know, they can go to the Pentagon website and sign up for the death notices.  I did.  Why can't others?

The only "Beat the Press" panel member to support the ban, Mr Joe Sciacca, talked about the Press using this for political purposes.  I think Mr Sciacca is correct. It comes down to media responsibility.  I have my doubts about that working in the case of our fallen.

The families deserve consideration.

Regards  --  Cliff


The New Englander said...


Well said. Knowing some families and individuals who have been very directly involved in what you're talking about, the points are in line with what they've said.

I also want to put in a quick plug for a web site here: It's a non-political site that simply tracks the number of OEF/OIF casualties and has a running scroll of open source news stories about the wars. I know it seems like a morbid way of keeping up on things, but I check this site out several times a week as a way to stay current on the theaters.

One interesting thing that's happened in late 08 into early 09 -- "non-hostile" deaths have started to eclipse "hostile" deaths for most of the months studied. Fascinating stuff.


Craig H said...

Respect for families above all, I still do not believe we properly honor the sacrifice represented by our fallen. Great honors were once bestowed on those given of the ultimate sacrifice, (recall the occasion of one of the greatest pieces of oratory in the history of the world, the Gettysburg Address), whereas now our government sweeps them beneath the deepest rug they can contrive. And we are complicit by our silence.

I don't believe our rote observances of Memorial Day and Veterans day are sufficient for the honor of those who are presently fallen in our time of war. I would prefer to admonish our leaders to step forward and recognize the sacrifices that they have obligated our servicemen and women to make. This does not need to make individual spectacle of any private family's grief. But it does require that we show our pride in those fallen, and give ALL the same welcome home--living, maimed or dead.

The honor to my Uncle buried at Indiantown Gap is greater for the solidarity of support his burial there enabled. I did not feel my family's grief intruded upon by the hundreds of others who joined us in remembrance. I would feel very small indeed if I did not repay that honor to every other family who has lost a loved one in a time of war.

When we hide the magnitude of this sacrifice under a bushel of secrecy, we extinguish a light that is meant to shine brighter.