A Fallen Hero Returns For All to See and Honor

I have been writing about the deliberations on whether to permit media access to our returning fallen heroes when they touch American soil at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

A lot of controversy and apprehension surrounded the issue and the decision.

Finally, on February 26, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a policy consistent with what we presently have at Arlington National Cemetery which allows the family to decide whether to allow media coverage.

There was still apprehension and criticism on the part of many organizations and individuals, fearing that media access and publicity would diminish the solemnity and dignity of the occasion.

Last night, those concerns were tested when the first fallen hero was welcomed home publicly under the new rules.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip A. Myers came home after being killed by a makeshift bomb in Afghanistan on Saturday.

According to MSNBC.com:

On a cool, clear night under the yellowish haze of floodlights on the tarmac, an eight-member team wearing white gloves and camouflage battle fatigues carried Myers’ body off of a military contract Boeing 747 that touched down at 9:19 p.m. after a flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

The fallen hero’s family was there to welcome him home, along with about two dozen members of the media.

The ceremony was somber, as it should be, and solemn and dignified as it must be, and took about 20 minutes “and was punctuated only by clicking of camera shutters and the barked salute orders of Col. Dave Horton, operations group commander of Dover’s 436th Airlift Wing.”

And this is the rest of the touching story, according to MSNBC.com:

Noel [a mortuary chaplain]and the other officers boarded the plane for a brief prayer before an automatic loader slowly lowered the flag-draped transfer case bearing Myers’ body about 20 feet to the tarmac, where the eight-member team slowly carried it to a white-paneled truck.

Preceded by a security vehicle with flashing blue and red lights, the truck then slowly made its way to the base mortuary, where Myers’ body was to be processed for return to his family.

Myers was a member of the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron with the Royal Air Force in Lakenheath, England, one of the bases the U.S. Air Force uses in the country. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery last year in recognition of his efforts in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Department of Defense said.

Myers’ widow flew from England to attend the arrival of his body to the U.S., which marked the first time since 1991 that members of media were allowed to witness the return of a combat casualty to Dover.

The ceremony was broadcast on most networks. I watched it. It was moving. It was appropriate.

The worldwide attention, in my opinion, did nothing to detract from the heroism of Sergeant Myers. It just made more people aware of the valor of this airman and of his and his family’s sacrifice.

Nothing to hide here. Everything to Honor.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist