“Dignified Transfer” Ceremonies for Our Fallen Heroes

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I am and have been in favor of publicly honoring our fallen heroes when they touch American soil for the last time at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. My personal motto is “Nothing to hide here. Everything to Honor.”

A lot of controversy and apprehension had surrounded this issue.

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.

On April 5, the Defense Department implemented the policy. The new policy permits the media to attend “dignified transfer” ceremonies with permission from the families and to pay the expenses of up to three relatives of a fallen hero to travel to Dover to watch their loved one come back home.

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.

In “A Fallen Hero Returns for All to See and Honor,” I wrote how those concerns were tested when the first fallen hero was welcomed home publicly under the new policy.

The fallen hero was Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip A. Myers who was killed by a makeshift bomb in Afghanistan.

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

The ceremony was somber, solemn and dignified. It was broadcast on most networks. I watched it. It was moving. It was appropriate.

However, my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is the opinion, the reaction and the acceptance of this new policy by family members of the fallen heroes.

The Air Force Times has a story today that speaks to that.

The report starts as follows:

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Susan Velloza stood on the flight line here less than 36 hours after she found out two Iraqi soldiers shot and killed her only child.

She cried as she and her husband watched six soldiers carry their son’s body off a 747 commercial jet.

She hardly remembers the red-eye flight she and her husband took from their California home to Philadelphia International Airport. Or the 77-mile drive through rural Delaware to Dover, home of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.

Four months later, though, she has no regrets. She had to see her son, Staff Sgt. Jake Velloza, returned to the country he died to defend.

“We needed to be there,” Velloza said. “I needed to bring my son back.”

The Times continues:

Since the policies took effect, mortuary affairs data show, the number of families traveling to Dover has increased from 5 percent to 72 percent — 141 of the 197 families who lost a service member between April 5 and Aug. 31 have made the trip.

Of those, nearly two-thirds let reporters and photographers watch the ceremony.

It should be noted that families always had the right to be at Dover when their heroes returned. However, they had to make their way to Dover on their own: “For many that wasn’t easy. The biggest challenges were money and time: A flight booked at the last minute is expensive, and many families couldn’t get to Dover quickly enough.”

The Times cites the story of the Duffys who lost their son, Army Sgt. Justin Duffy, in Baghdad to a roadside bomb. The Duffys chose not to travel to Dover, but they let reporters and photographers document their son’s return because, according to Joe Duffy, “we were told there would be distance between Justin’s casket and the media themselves, so we didn’t have a problem with it.”

The Duffys and many of the families let the media witness one of their most private, most emotional moments because, said Rose, the mortuary official, they have a “sense of pride” about what their son or daughter gave for this country.

“They just lost a hero, and they wanted the rest of the world to know the sacrifices they made,” Rose said.

Please read more about this story here, and also about the noble work being done by the members of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base, Del., here and here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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10 Comments

  1. Dorian, Thanks you for posting. . .this is the pure meaning of righteousness. . .

  2. Thank you, ordinarysparrow.

    It is difficult to get people to read posts lately, and to comment on them, unless the post is related to hurling insults and hate at Mr.Obama, or justifying and defending such insults ands hate

    That's why your reading and commenting on this post is especially appreciated.

    Dorian

  3. This program appears to have been thought through and implemented exactly right. It gives the families a chance to personally see their loved ones remains returned, gives the country a chance to see the consequences of war, and retains the families privacy if they wish.

  4. If my memory serves me right, DG, you were somewhat ambivalent about the proposed new policy a few months ago.

    Thanks for your comments and I am glad that you feel that the new policy is being implemented properly.

    I certainly believe it is.

    Dorian

  5. However, my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is the opinion, the reaction and the acceptance of this new policy by family members of the fallen heroes.

    Truer words were never spoken.

    Nice post.

    God bless the fallen warriors.

    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

  6. Leonidas:

    You and I do not see eye-to-eye on many issues, but I am glad we do on this one—because it is an important one

    Thank you,

    Dorian

  7. That's a touching story, Rudi. Thank you.

    We should be higlighting such stories more. That's the true American spirit, not the hateful, vile dialogue that seems to be riding roughshod

  8. You and I do not see eye-to-eye on many issues

    And honestly that is a strength and not a weakness of our society, the ability to have different viewpoints. It allows us to challenge each other to think and to get more perspective so long as we keep our minds open. Even if you don't convince me that you are right and I am in error, you can still make me consider a different viewpoint and to re-evaluate my own, tweak it if necessary, and at the very least make sure I know more fully what I am for. Although I think of you (rightly or wrongly) as center-left and myself as center-right it does not mean I do not respect you and your views even if I don't accept them. I don't see a close mindedness in your posts, and think that you with your bias and I with mine, can still learn from each other and grow. The world would be pretty boring if everyone thought exactly alike.

    Oh couse that doesn't mean we can't take some comfort in those cases where our views converge. When folks you normally disagree with agree with you, it is more reassuring than when folks you normally agree with agree with you.

  9. Leonidas:

    Those are nice, discerning thoughts. We need more like them.

    Thanks

    Dorian

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