Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has decided to allow photographs of flag-draped caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as America's war dead return home as long as the families of the fallen troops agree to it, the Pentagon announced today.
"My conclusion was we should not presume to make the decision for the families," Gates said.
In making his choice the Secretary of Defense took into account the policy that's used at Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's historic burying ground that sits on a hillside just northwest of the Pentagon's lawn. At Arlington the decision about whether the deceased soldier's funeral is covered by the press or not is left up to each individual family.
The Dover Air Force Base is home to the military's largest mortuary facility. The bodies of killed American troops come back to the States through Dover before traveling on to hometowns and their families. The scene re-enacted at Dover during HBO's Taking Chance was among the film's most powerful.
"I have always believed that the decision as to how to honor our fallen heroes should be left up to the families," Vice President Joe Biden said. "The past practice didn't account for a family's wishes and I believed that was wrong."
During the Vietnam War the daily pictures of so many flag-covered caskets coming back to the tarmac in Dover helped shift America's attitude to be against the war, so much so that the Pentagon began referring to how the public might react to a military operation's casualties as "the Dover test."
I asked my brother Paul what he thought about the change and his reply was simple:
It should not be a blanket uplifting of the ban. It should always be up to the family. You violate the families wishes and we should be allowed to shove the cameras up their collective asses.
My brother has never been one to mince words....one of my favorite qualities about him.
This is Day 72.