Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doing the Right Thing

Nothing like a little sunshine on a story to bring it out of the darkness and into the public sensibilities. On July 10, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about Gina Gray, former Public Affairs Director at Arlington National Cemetery who ran afoul of her managers in an attempt to allow media coverage of funerals of Iraq war dead with permission of the families.

On Saturday, the Post reports that Army Secretary Pete Geren has asked his staff for an internal review to examine the Army's firing last month of Gina Gray. While there might be reason for some skepticism that an honest and forthright investigation will actually take place, there is hope that this publicity will encourage it. In this case, the media actually did their job and I give kudos for that.

On a related note, I was the only Gold Star Family member who had commented on the initial story. A friend suggested I send a Letter to the Editor at the Post and on Saturday with a bit of editing, my letter was one of 3 letters in response to the initial article.
When I was notified that my only child was killed in Iraq on May 30, 2004, I requested a photograph of his body's arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. My request was denied because it was "against Army regulations" and "to protect the privacy of the families" -- apparently without regard to a family's specific request.
When I was planning my son's burial at Arlington National Cemetery, I do not recall if I was asked about media coverage, but at least one reporter from The Post was present. I welcomed the presence of the media, in part because I wanted to remember the day.
America should be privileged to witness the ceremony and dignity of a military funeral.
America should be required to witness and experience a family's mournful loss as they bury a loved one. America should be allowed to mourn, if only briefly, as it bears witness to the human cost of war.
It seems that as public affairs director at the cemetery, Gina Gray, was attempting to honor the wishes of the families, and I applaud her efforts. Families going through the casualty process are extremely fragile and need more professionals like Ms. Gray to be their advocates at Arlington National Cemetery.
Further, in the initial article, Dana Milbank had written

The ghost of Rummy is proving difficult to exorcise. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has tried to sweep out the symbols of his predecessor's capricious reign, firing acolytes of Donald Rumsfeld and bringing glasnost to the Pentagon. But in one area, Rummy's Rules still pertain: the attempt to hide from public view the returning war dead.

One of the other Letters to the Editor was from Keith Urbahn from Donald Rumsfeld's office.

To the contrary, the longstanding Defense Department policies reflected the American public's right to know of the sacrifices made by U.S. men and women in uniform while respecting their family members' wishes for privacy.
Further, Mr. Milbank's suggestion of Mr. Rumsfeld's ongoing influence over personnel decisions -- a year and a half after his departure from
the Pentagon -- is a ridiculous stretch, and it is a discredit to the men and women at the Defense Department who decide and implement the policies governing how the nation's fallen are laid to rest.

Mr Urbahn is full of crap. It's not surprising that Mr Urbahn protests so much especially when this kind of incident clearly demonstrates how some people at the Department of Defense drank the Rumsfeld koolaid willingly and still do. Mr Urbahn's boss's unfortunate lasting legacy will always be the arrogance he had for the military and their families. Rumsfeld's casual attitude towards the conditions of the boots on the ground and the damage his policies caused only added to the anguish we families of the fallen live with daily. (Don't forget that back in 2004, as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld could not be bothered to personally sign the letters of condolence that he sent to more than 1000 families of the fallen)

Finally, thanks to Operation Yellow Elephant for noting my original comment. The kind words are gratefully appreciated.


Amy Branham said...

Hi, Karen! Great letter to the Post! It's been so frustrating that the warmongers don't want the public to see the reality of war though the falling tears and flag-draped coffins. There are some media outlets that are fighting back, though! In Houston a couple of weeks ago one news station broke with "breaking news" to show the return of a flag-draped coffin, complete with the plane coming down the tarmac,through the spray from the fire trucks and to the waiting family. Not a word was spoken as the camera showed the tearful family (from the side, they were very respectful) as the casket was taken from the plane and carried to the waiting hearse by the Marine detail (I can't remember what they're called today). The whole thing lasted 15-20 minutes and I cried the whole time, remembering my own time and how much all of us have gone through to make this possible and acceptable to do.

In peace, your sister,

libhom said...

When the approach to military funerals is based on the most effective means of political spin, the war has been exposed to have no legitimate basis or purpose.

Kaitlyn said...

Great blog. I was appalled to find out that my sister-in-law had no idea that in previous wars, the flag draped coffins were shown returning from the war. She had no idea that the Pentagon was blocking media coverage in order to hide the effects of the war from the general public. I lost my brother in the Vietnam War. I remember seeing the media coverage of the returning coffins. I have written to the President and all my representatives about this issue.
Peace be with you.