Sunday, May 30, 2004

Last Homecoming

The following is posted as a follow-up to the story I posted regarding the dismissal of Tami Silicio from her job as a baggage handler for Maytag Air Group, Inc. for releasing a photo of Flag-draped coffins of American dead being prepared to be sent home. This article appeared on the front page of the New York Daily News, April 23, 2004.

So, I guess my question is, who are they going to fire for this?


Last homecoming

First look at tragic photos that show somber realities of war


G.I.s inspect and adjust flags adorning coffins.

Coffins taken off plane in Dover, Del.

WASHINGTON - America's war dead lie in plain 7-foot-long aluminum cases filled with ice, each draped with an American flag.

Sometimes at noon, sometimes at midnight, on weekdays and on holidays, a steady stream of military planes brings the remains of the fallen home to prayers, salutes and a solemn silence.

Landing at Dover, Del., Air Force Base, the slain are met by an eight-member honor guard, base officials and a chaplain. There is usually no family present.

And until this week, all images of those somber homecomings were banned from publication by the Pentagon.

"It doesn't matter that no one's watching. What matters is respecting those who have sacrificed the ultimate for their country," said Lt. Allison Tedesco, a base spokeswoman.

But military officials mistakenly released 361 of the moving photographs to an anti-secrecy activist yesterday, who posted them on his Web site.

The ceremony depicted in the pictures has been repeated 706 times so far in the past 13 months for soldiers who died in Iraq - more than 100 in the past month alone.

After the plane's engines shut down, the first person on board is the chaplain, who says a prayer over the ranks of aluminum cases.

The fatigues-clad honor guard inspects each flag, straightening those that might have shifted in flight and replacing any that might be smudged.

And then, one by one, each case is slowly borne from the hold. As officials stand by, saluting, the only sound is the crack of commands: "Right face!" "Detail halt!"

The remains are loaded into vans that will ferry the dead 2 miles to the Charles C. Carson military mortuary, first stop on the final journey home for all of America's war dead.

Photos are routinely taken by base photographers, but the Pentagon renewed a 1991 ban on their publication just before the Iraq invasion, saying they are protecting the families of the fallen.

Bush administration officials have said privately they worry such grim images would undermine public support for an increasingly controversial war in an election year. (My emphasis)

Critics say that hiding the return of the dead dishonors those who have given their lives for their country.

Anti-secrecy crusader Russ Kick of Arizona filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force last year for access to the photos. Kick was rejected but "I appealed on several grounds, and - to my amazement - the ruling was reversed," he wrote on his Web site,

The Pentagon said the release was an accident.

"Attorneys are looking into the case to see if that was an appropriate action," said Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Molino.

In a related incident, a cargo worker was fired this week by a military contractor after her photograph of flag-draped coffins was published by The Seattle Times.