Dear President Obama-
I am writing with a request that I hope you will consider. I know that you are working on many priorities that may seem to be more important than this, but I hope you will understand the importance of this request and find a way to consider and change a longstanding and ill-advised policy. Since lifting the ban on photographs of flag covered caskets was discussed during your press conference on February 9, I think it is time for you to make a decision.
Please review the current Department of Defense policy regarding the ban for taking photographs of the flag covered caskets of US casualties as they process through Dover AFB and other military installations. Please allow these photographs to be taken and shared with the families and our country. That this policy was allowed to survive and even thrive since 1991 since it was instituted by then Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, is an insult to our loved ones and their families.
You wear a KIA bracelet honoring the service of Sergeant Ryan David Jopeck, and I wear a bracelet, too. My bracelet honors my son, 1Lt Ken Ballard. On Memorial Day morning 2004, when I was notified of the death of my only child, 1Lt Ken Ballard in Iraq I requested a photograph of his flag-covered casket being returned to Dover. I wanted to see that his body was treated with dignity and respect. I was denied that request with the response that it was "against Army regulations" and "for the privacy of the family". There are no words to describe how devastating this response was to me and caused further pain to my already aching heart. A photograph was never provided to me. I will never see how the military welcomed him home. With no identification on these caskets, I do not understand how this policy is "for the privacy of the families".
My son was a 4th generation Army officer. Ken loved his tanks and he especially loved his soldiers and serving his country in the Army. How insulting to hide his return to his beloved United States. How insulting to Americans who are not allowed to grieve as a nation when these young men and women come home.
My son's return to US soil was one part of his journey home and to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. Although Ken did not return alive as we prayed he would, his return was still part of the story of his life and yet I have no photographic documentation of that journey into the United States.
We are told these caskets arrive and are processed with great honor as should be accorded to one of our brave service members who have given his or her final measure of devotion for our country. We are told the ceremony is respectful, dignified and moving. But we families do not know as we are not encouraged to be at Dover and photographs are not shared with us.
For too long the Bush administration forced the sacrifice of the human cost of war only on military families in an attempt to minimize the wars affect on our country. How can our nation mourn with the Gold Star families if we do not see these images? How can we grieve for the loss? How will future generations know what the cost of these wars were without photographic images?
The First Lady has said that she will focus her time in the White House on military families. Please remember that we, Gold Star families will always be military families.
President Obama, please consider this request from a Gold Star Mom to allow our nation to share our grief by allowing photographic coverage as these flag covered caskets make their final journey home.