Mr. Obama: Please Honor Our Returning Heroes

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Volumes have been written about past administrations’ decisions not to let the American people see images of the flag-draped coffins, our fallen heroes, arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware—the first contact with U.S. soil since leaving foreign battlefields, including the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I will neither condemn nor condone the reported reasons for such a decision. Reasons that have reportedly ranged from respect and concern for the family’s grief and privacy, to alleged attempts by the Bush administration to hide the real tragedy and cost of the war from the American public, lest opposition to the war increase even more.

In an informative article today, “Fallen Soldiers, Coming Home,” the New York Times discusses the background, allegations, issues and “implications” involved with such a ban on photographing the flag-draped coffins.

The Times also reports:

Just last week, President Obama was asked at a news conference if he would allow coverage of the flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware “so the American people can see the full human cost of war.”

Mr. Obama surprised many when he replied that he was “in the process of reviewing those policies.” But he did not tip his hand. “I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved,” he said.

Talking about implications, The Times notes:

Moreover, no one knows what will happen in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on some other battlefield. At some point, Mr. Obama himself will be held accountable for the coffins coming home, and he may find that it is not in his interest, any more than it was in his predecessors’, for Americans to have these visual reminders of the death toll.

Mr. President, the American people understand that you may have to send more of our brave troops to Afghanistan and elsewhere, and that, tragically, some of them may return in flag-draped coffins through Dover Air Force Base.

But, if your promises about change, transparency, and leveling with the American people are sincere, you must let the American people honor its fallen heroes when they first reach American soil. This can and should be done consistent with every respect and due considerations for the hardship, grief, privacy, etc. of the surviving family members, and regardless of future political considerations.

To do otherwise, would make your administration, in this respect, not any different than previous ones.

And, Mr. Obama, while you are reviewing this policy, please also consider the following:

After nearly seven years of combat in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the previous administration saw fit to award only five Medals of Honor, our nation’s highest military award for valor, to our Iraq and Afghanistan heroes.

In contrast, there were 245 Medals of Honor recipients during the Vietnam War, and 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for the single World War II battle of Iwo Jima.

There may be some more Medals of Honor “in the pipeline,” but here is a unique opportunity for you, our new President, to recognize the magnificent acts of heroism that surely have been performed by many more than just five of our brave troops.

Mr. President, please honor our heroes, for their acts of valor and as they return home for the last time.

Photos: U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist