My niece reminded me today that I haven't written here about my struggle to get a photo of Ken's flag covered casket being returned to Dover AFB. The day that we were notified of Ken's death, I told myself I would make sure he received all the honors and money that he deserved (easier said than done, I found).
That first day, May 31, 2004, Memorial Day, after I was told the awful news, I asked for a photo of Ken's flag covered casket as it was returned to Dover AFB, Delaware, the mortuary for the Department of Defense. Dover is where all soldiers are processed before they are returned home. I wanted to see Ken's casket being treated with the dignity and respect that he had earned. My request was refused, they told me "it is against regulations" and "it is to protect the privacy of the families" (oh, okay, the families....)
I told them that I am a mother and I want the picture of my son's body being treated with dignity and respect. They still told me "No". Eery time I spoke to someone from the Army that week, regardless of why they were contacting me, I asked for the photos, and time and time again, I was told no. I never got a photograph of Ken's body as it was honored at Dover. Rebecca Carr from the Cox News Service captured my story nicely
Pentagon denies mother's plea for photo in March 2005.
An Army factoid you may not know- it takes about 7 days from the date of death for the body to be returned home. They had plenty of time to find someone to bend the regulations, but they didn't.
I found this website tonite, http://thefinalrollcall.us/rc_goinghome.html. (full disclosure- you may want to grab the kleenex now, before you watch) This is a poignant presentation of photos of soldiers who dies in Iraq, the plane arriving at Dover, the honor ceremonies...all of the photos I wanted to see of Ken. You see, even if, or maybe especially that he is dead, these are still memories of his life.
There is controversy to seeing these pictures, of course. Only 700 photographs have been released by the Department of Defense from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both times photos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information request/ lawsuit. By releasing the photographs, the DOD concedes that the photos belong in the public domain. The 2nd release of photos in April, 2005, the DOD redacted many of the photos to remove identification of many of the honor guards. Because they were "forced" to release the photographs, it is possible that Dover is no longer documenting the honor ceremonies by taking photographs. We will have lost this part of our military history if that is true.
They call them "Honor" guards for a reason. They are the soldiers who HONOR my son and his comrades. They are honored to be chosen to participate in these ceremonies. We honor the remains that return from wars long ago, but we hide these young men and women as they make their final journey home as if there are none.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, explains the Dover Test this way:
The Dover test is an informal test and a journalistic phrase to describe whether the general population of the United States is supporting the participation of the United States in a war or other military action by the public reaction to returning war casualties. The test is usually used to support a partisan position concerning the United States government's actions than to actually determine the level of public support for the war.
We are flunking the Dover test badly . 48% of the general population thinks GW has handled the war in Iraq poorly. His numbers are free falling and he is still in denial.
There are good people who continue to work to get those images released from the Department of Defense and I thank them. Beyond, the obvious personal reasons of seeing Ken being honored, Ralph Begleiter from the University of Delaware shares my reasons for wanting the photos. This country needs to see the bodies being returned home every night on the evening news. They need to be reminded of the human cost of this war. And if it ruins their dinner, well, welcome to my world!