A piece I wrote last week, “Mr. Obama: Please Honor Our Returning Heroes,” generated a lot of discussion and some controversy.

The piece was about the policy that has been in effect since 1991 and which, with a couple of exceptions, has effectively hidden from the American public the arrival of our fallen heroes at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

This morning, in “Pentagon Rethinks Photo Ban on Coffins Bearing War Dead,” the Washington Post visits the issue and reports on similar feelings as those expressed by my readers, but this time spoken by family members of the fallen.

For example,

“I would have loved to see them fly my son back in and give him a full salute,” said Janice Chance of Owings Mills, Md., whose son, Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III, was killed Sept. 9 in Afghanistan’s Parwan province. She said she is in favor of media coverage of the return ceremony.

“As long as it is done in good taste, and they are showing that the people here in the United States are welcoming them back and saying job well done, that is what I would like to see,” she said.


John Clodfelter lost his son, Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Clodfelter, in the Cole attack and supports lifting the ban. “When our son’s remains were returned up at Dover, there were several caskets that came off the plane, and you couldn’t tell which was Kenneth and which one was not Kenneth,” he said. As for whether news personnel should be allowed to cover the transfer, he said, “I don’t have a problem with it myself, as long as they are at a respectable distance.”

Clodfelter said he did not believe such coverage would spur antiwar sentiment among Americans. “If anything, I would hope that they would go ahead and feel sympathy for the families,” he said. “The people really need to understand that, hey, lives are being lost for you, to be able to get these people that are trying to kill our loved ones. The American military does so much for us, it’s unreal, and people really do not appreciate it at all.”

Other family members, however, strongly disagreed, saying they felt media coverage would allow their lost loved ones to be politically exploited:

This is very much Democratically driven to make it available to the public so they can publicize the negative side of the war and show the American public there is a high cost to be paid here,” said Cal Peters, whose stepson, Marine Capt. Garret Lawton, died Aug. 4 in Afghanistan. “I think this is the ultimate disrespect.

According to the Post, “A majority of Americans favor allowing the public to see pictures of the military honor guard receiving the war dead at Dover, with about 60 percent responding positively and a third answering negatively in polls posing the question in 1991 and 2004.”

President Obama is considering lifting the ban on photographs and videos at Dover and, according to the Post, “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expects a review of the issue back within days…and is seeking ‘a way to better balance an individual family’s privacy concerns with the right of the American people to honor these fallen heroes’ and ‘is disposed, leaning, tilting towards trying to do more, if possible’ to allow coverage of the ceremony.”

The Post also notes that changing the policy would carry some risk for Obama, considering that he may be sending “tens of thousands of fresh troops [to Afghanistan], increasing the likelihood of combat deaths that could produce photographs of numerous coffins arriving at one time at Dover, the sole U.S. port of entry for the remains.”

I stick to the plea I made to the President in my previous post:

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.

Finally, in Newsweek’s “A Matter of Honor,” John Barry discusses similar issues and has the following suggestion:

Is there a better way to honor their privacy and meet their needs while making sure the public is reminded of the price of war? Canada may have an answer. The more than 100 Canadian soldiers who have fallen in combat in Afghanistan have been flown to Trenton air base, then driven 107 miles to the mortuary in Toronto. A stretch of Canada’s Highway 401 has become known as the Highway of Heroes. When the military hearse drives down it, all other traffic is blocked; police and fire trucks, lights flashing, line each overpass, and hundreds of Canadians, flags in hand, wait along the highway. Perhaps fallen American soldiers could arrive at Andrews Air Force Base— with the sort of quiet, dignified ceremony I chanced to witness—and then be carried by hearse (anonymously; no family need be present) to the mortuary at Dover, 102 miles away by road and highway. The route could pass by the White House.

Photo: U.S. Air Force–Via Reuters

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • greenschemes

    The route could pass by the White House.

    And what statement would you (John Barry the author of this remark) would you like the hearst to make in passing in front of the White House? To honor the dead or to make a political antiwar statement?

    I actually loved his idea until this very last little sentence and once again I fear that political sentiment just could not be left aside in the honoring of the dead. So sad for all of us.

  • river

    This was good to hear. . .

    Greenschemes i respectfully ask you a question. . .

    What would the honoring of the fallen soldiers look like for you, or for one on the right, as you refer to yourself?. . .Where does honor, respect, along with the sobering reflection of the consequences of war turn into anti-war partisan propaganda? Where you see political anti-war statement i see it as the least of what we could and should do for the remembrance of the soliders both living and dead, and their families. Being understood the families wishes are paramount. I would like to hear what you are for on this one?

  • greenschemes


    Ordinarily I would love to answer your question but as for someone on the right…..its obvious in your phraseology that you believe that I do not value their sacrifice and this will only lead to a debate and that debate itself does dishonor to those soldiers and their selfless acts of courage.

    Thanks but no thanks my friend.

  • DdW

    I believe that the author had no ulterior motives with that statement. Furthermore, I believe that the present occupant of the White House would have no problem with that—as a matter of fact I believe that he would be there, along with all of us, to honor our heroes.

  • river

    Green Schemes. . I am sorry if you read it that way, and sorry if i was clumsy in phrasing it in a way you would read it that way. . .truly am not suggesting you do not value the soldiers sacrifice. . .you briefly suggested , “i liked this idea until the last sentence”. . and that is what i was curious about?

    The reason i asked the question had more to do with what i have been contemplating. . .I do lean a little left from middle. . . It seems to me for a long long time the conversation between the right and the left has been discounting of the perceived opponent rather than stating another viable option.

    Okay. . . Greenschemes i did have an ulterior motive. . .I am over the manipulation of the American public by both the left and the right political machines. . . Such as the Karl Rove types and the Dick Morris types using military strategy for politics; divide and conquer with the winner taking the spoils.. . .Then there are the talk show host that create the rabid and the rancid divisions of. . . “some us against some them”, for what?. . . They receive six or seven figure paychecks and what do we get?. . .Politicians on both sides spending most of their time waging the political wars strategy and shouting the same old partisan divisions and rhetoric so they can be re-elected another term or have more power in high places, as the country is near collapse. . . .We have become cleverly manipulated by those that gain by our divisions rather than our goodwill for one another and the country . . . . Have come to a place in life and also TMV where i am likely to hear the other side and what they are advocating, rather than hearing how the other is wrong. . .

    The issue of honoring the soldiers is one of the few that folks like you and me, the left, the moderate,the right, are very apt to find common ground. I would venture on this one we are much more alike than different concerning honoring the troops. I asked the question for wanted to see if you could state an affirmative rather than a division, for i know the right has deep honor for the Vets.. . . And since i sensed that, was curious as to what honor would look like compared to what the authors had suggested? I am over the division. . . too much is at stake these days. . .but regrettably i do not know if the tide of politics as blood sport and be countered?

  • greenschemes

    I am a Vietnam vet. I spent 9 months and 27 days in country in an infantry squad. I was nobody special. I was just a soldier who during a nasty hate filled war that tore our country apart volunteered because everyone in my family from the Civil war on down to my two brothers had all served. It was a given that I would as well.

    I understand the sacrifices and the scars of war. I understand death and dying in combat. But most importantly I understand that honor is for the living. We, the living, honor our dead comrades and we do that without judgment. Without questions and without regrets. In better times a motorcade past the White House would illicit honor. Today it would illicit War protestors and that does no honor to these men and women who gave their all. To bring dishonor upon them by doing something that would equate to that is purposefully dishonoring the tens of thousands who fill graveyards from here to Normandy to Iwo Jima and beyond.

    If I could. If they would I would be honored and privledged to have them drive by the front of my house because I would offer my salute and my thanks. I would not give thought for their color or their faith or their politics. I would think that our president and our congressmen would do the same without any form of Politicking and crass disdain for anyone who would use such a moment to offer up anything that devalues the sacrifce that lies before them.

    If we but could we would stand in the Graveyard of Gettysburg where Americans killed Americans and learn a valuable lesson. That honor cannot be taken from the dead, but it can be taken from the living.

  • river

    Green Schemes

    Thanks for coming back and giving such a clear authentic answer. . .i see your angle and have learned another layer of this issue. . .You have given me some things to think about such as. . . ” honor is for the living”?. . I know there are no luggage racks on hearses but surely we take a few intangibles beyond?. . .I remember reading somewhere that honor is the inner garment of the soul, the first things we put on and the last things we take off. . .And maybe you are right. . .It is the living that needs to honor. . .

    I agree with you, anti-war protesting or political blustering either yea or nay is not honoring in the context of a honoring ceremony. . .One cannot show honor by being dishonoring. I like what you said, without judgments, without question, but maybe regret for loss of life and loss for the family and loved ones. Also the statement “honor cannot be taken from the dead
    but it can be taken from the living, ” really good point, and for me that statement would be perfect for any one that would show dishonor at a time of honoring the fallen. People are going to protest war, and there is a time and place for that but NOT at some soldier’s funeral. There are always going to be some dorks, but hope you and others can risk the trust there are many Americans that are able to make the distinction between a soldier’s service and the need of a Nation to show respect, reflection, and honor and the despair and disagreement of war such as in Bush and Cheney’s charge into Iraq. . .

    I truly believe and acknowledge that you would show honor and respect Green Schemes if they drove by the front of your house. I wish they could. . . .thank you. . .

    • DdW

      Thanks river for elevating the discussion to a more common ground, less politicized level. And thanks GS for reciprocating