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Posted by on Feb 21, 2009 in War | 6 comments

On Our Fallen Heroes, Returning Home: A Word From Ordinary Citizens


As I have mentioned before, I often find that regular people, people like you and I, can look at the issues of our time and come up with more sensible, down-to-earth opinions—and sometimes solutions—than the pundits and the politicians.

That’s why I like to read the “Letters to the Editor” sections of the various newspapers and periodicals.

The issue of lifting the ban on photographs, or of any other public visual record, of our returning heroes when they first touch American soil at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, has been a lot in the news recently, as the Obama administration, along with the Pentagon, weigh lifting the ban.

I posted a couple of opinion pieces here and here, and received quite a few lively responses and commentary, both for and against lifting the ban.

This morning, the New York Times, in “A Visual Record to Honor the Fallen,” published a set of four letters, three by ordinary citizens—including one by the father of a fallen hero*, one by a Navy member—and one by an organization.

And again, as is so often the case, such letters provide not only a good cross-section of American opinion, but—as shown in order below—also very eloquent and poignant rationale in support of, in opposition to, or for compromise on an issue, respectively.

Here they are:

Re “A Record of Sacrifice” (editorial, Feb. 15):

I agree with efforts to lift the ban on photographs of returning fallen servicemen and women. Nothing says more of the sacrifice they and their families have made than that.

Politicians who beat their breasts talking about “the ultimate sacrifice” should be willing to show what that means.

As parents of Lance Cpl. Augie Schroeder, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2005, my wife and I put our son’s life into a video set to music appropriate for what happened. Viewers see a smiling kid, but it ends with his funeral.

This has great effect in showing the public the true costs of war, and it is the public that has to tell politicians to just end what we continue to do in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My son’s sacrifice demands it.

Paul E. Schroeder
Cleveland, Feb. 15, 2009

Re “Coming Home in Public” (Week in Review, Feb. 15):

One’s military service is certainly in the best interest of the public, but the notion that an individual service member’s “return is of public interest,” as you report some critics of the ban on photographs have asserted, is a disingenuous stretch.

Stretched far enough, one could argue that the content of a service member’s dental record is a matter of public interest, as well.

Since much of military life, compared with civilian life, is lived under some type of scrutiny, I hope society would afford all the privacy possible for the members of its armed services.

If skeptics judge the Pentagon’s current policy on photographing the return of fallen military members’ remains an attempt to “manipulate public opinion,” how can any reasonable and rational person not think the desire by the media to gain unfettered access to flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base is not the same?

Shaun S. Brown
Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, Feb. 15, 2009
The writer is in the Navy.

Re “A Record of Sacrifice” (editorial, Feb. 15):

You point out that the press should be permitted to cover and photograph the arrival of the remains of American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan so that the public will be able to appreciate their sacrifices as well as see the reality of the costs of war.

The families of these fallen soldiers should have a lot of input on the decision of whether or not the remains of their loved ones should be publicized in this manner.

But the deaths of these young men and women should not be used to support anyone’s political agenda, whether it favors or opposes the military actions in question.

Michael Gewirtz
New York, Feb. 15, 2009

The fourth letter is by the regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, who is the originator of the Eyes Wide Open exhibit.

As it represents the position of an organization, I have not included it here. But it also offers powerful opinion. To read it, please go here.

* Note: While I include Mr. Schroeder in the category of “ordinary citizens,” I do this with with great respect and with my deep sympathy for his loss.