Dear Secretary Gates and President Obama (and the media):
For the past week or so, many milbloggers have been discussing the media's request for you and the President to reconsider the ban on photographing the flag-draped coffins of military members killed in service to their country as they arrive at Dover, DE.I have commented on a number of these blogs, and now I weigh in here.
If you read my blog, you would know that in Oct. '05, our youngest son, Noah had the honor of escorting his good friend and brother SPC Thomas Byrd to his final rest. He accompanied Tommy from Dover to Chicago to Tucson. He and I spoke a number of times before, during and after his mission. He spoke (and I blogged) of the kindness and the respect of those he came in contact with on his journey. I told the story of Tommy and Noah's last journey together HERE HERE HERE
Because our son had been wounded and returned stateside a few weeks before, he was not there when the IED took Tommy and four other brothers
in his squad. When he first learned that he had been granted the honor of taking Tommy home, he told me that when they all went off to war, they promised each other that they would bring each other home. "This isn't how we thought it would happen, Ma." To our son, the opportunity to greet his friend at Dover and have that private
reunion with him and the interactions as they transferred between planes and when they reached their final destination were moments that would not be -- nor could they ever be -- the same if the media were present and snapping away.
The final minutes with his friend were solemn and special and private moments that are -- and should remain -- reserved for those who understand the sacrifice. They do not have to personally know the soldier, but they do have to BE a soldier or family to understand. And understanding in this case is just not the same as knowing. You will find many of those moments recounted in "Taking Chance" (be sure to read all the links -- it will be worth your time) and in Jim Sheeler's "Final Salute".
As I have said in any number of comments on this story of reconsidering the ban, what is to be accomplished by lifting the ban? Will it somehow make the death(s) more meaningful? Will the image of a flag-draped coffin on the front page of the local newspaper or the New York Times or on the local television station somehow ease the grief of the families? Or could the release of such photos for any all purposes demean and belittle the sacrifice of the dead and their families?
Those who say that it is a "right" for all Americans to pay their respects for those who made the sacrifice and should not be a right held exclusively for the families, I say it is a right that SHOULD be held exclusively for the families. If a family wishes the media at their soldier’s arrival, fine… but otherwise the media should remain barred. To those who say they wish these photos so that the "public" can show their respect for the dead, I say, if it takes photos of flag-draped caskets to inspire someone to mourn our war dead, “respecting” the dead is not their intention.
We do not hide our heroes. We speak their names. We tell their stories. We celebrate their lives. We mourn their deaths. Any who wish to honor those who have died may join us in those undertakings. However, photos of the caskets are so singularly subject to misuse and abuse — to demean their deaths, to undermine the cause for which they willingly served, to serve purposes for which the dead have no say — THAT is why the ban should remain.
Is there some monetary or political profit to be made on the dead? Yes, I see. Maintain the ban.
I have sent my comment, but ask that you share your thoughts with Secretary Gates:
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Labels: DoD, Government, Support the Troops, The Fallen