A few weeks ago I was visiting Washington DC. It just so happens that the day after I met with Congressman Duncan D Hunter and discussed the loss of my son, the Dover ban Policy and taking steps to protect the names of our fallen from being used by organization that disrespect and exploit them, Sec. Robert Gates lifted the Dover ban for media to photograph the flag draped caskets of our Fallen Heroes as they came home to Dover. Of course there was the whole “with the permission of the family” clause in the lifting of the ban. Sounds like they are giving the family a real voice in it right?
Let me explain how it works….
Two men in uniform knock on your door at any given hour. They then very professionally and politely tell you the most devastating news of your life. Someone you love has been killed in a horrific manner. then they offer condolences and their sorrow. Then they lay out a stack of forms you must sign. You have no idea what the forms are you just know you want these people to leave so you can fall apart and start the grieving process in private. So you sign what ever they lay on the table. You can’t comprehend the words even if you do read them. So here is their idea of giving the family a choice… laying a press release in front of them knowing that they will sign anything at that moment. Some choice.
It is a process that will take advantage of many people’s mental and emotional state in that moment of the most extreme grief a human can be in. It has been over a year and quite honestly I still have no idea what my husband and I signed that day or in the following days.. with the exception of one form. But I only remember that because it was quite possible more devastating to be asked to sign it that the original news of my son’s death.
Now the Department of Defense wants to fly families to Dover to be present when their loved ones arrive there. Sounds like a caring move until you think about the emotional state of the families. From experience I can tell you that all you want to do is look at them one last time, run your fingers through their hair, touch their eyes and lips. And when they fly these families to Dover that is going to be what they want, to see their loved ones. But when our Fallen get to Dover they are not coming home to their family to be laid to rest but to their military family to be honored, and lovingly cared for and prepared for that final journey home. Our Fallen are in no state for their loved ones to see them when they arrive at Dover. That is one of the reason they are taken to Dover.. so the men and women who REQUEST to work there can painstakingly care for them and prepare them to come home one last time. The ceremonies and care of our Fallen at Dover are done with Honor. To have the families there is in my opinion psychological torture of the family. It will be more devastating than anyone who has not been through this can comprehend.
I waited a week for my son to come home to me. I was told when he had arrived at Dover. I knew he was with his military brothers and sisters and I knew they were taking care of him. The wait was hard and emotionally draining. But it was also a period of time to get the emotional support of family, friends and the community. A time to plan our last good byes, his funeral. At the end of the wait watching his casket with the flag he fought to defend draped over it come off the plane at our local airport was intensely emotional and personal. More so than the funeral. It was the moment I knew there was going to be no apology that it had been a mistake. It was the moment I saw the shear angry and pain on my other son’s face and my heart broke once again in to so many pieces I don’t think I will ever be able to truly put them all back in place. It was also the moment I knew my son was finally home. We welcomed him home and said goodbye in that moment.
I’ve heard the arguments for lifting the Dover Ban:
Freedom of speech. Taking a picture of the caskets at Dover is not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means you get to say what ever you think about the GOVERNMENT.
The Cost of war. We need people to know the human cost of war. Well by God anyone with a brain can read the names and know they were real people why do they need to intrude of the dead and their families? Do they not realize they are costing the families more? These familoies just paid the ultimate price of war and some want to make them pay more by invading their grief and using their loved one as nothing more than a prop for a picture. That not only have we given the life of our loved ones, a piece of our hearts and souls but they are taking the one last thing we have the dignity and privacy to say our last good byes? Price tag that!!
Honoring the Fallen is an other argument I have heard. Well I want them honored too. They deserve it but respecting them and their families and the intimacy and pain of their coming home is how you do that. There is time for memorials and tributes later.. honor them and their families by giving them the right to grieve and get through the devastating process without intrusion. All the photos and fanfare is is a painful reminder of those keeping score and who look up on our nation’s Fallen as a weapon to be used for politic gain. If you ask those taking the pictures or looking at them on the news the name of one of those Fallen Heroes, who’s flag draped casket they have to have a picture of, a week later they couldn’t tell you. But they can give you the numbers. Well Spc Micheal E Phillips was not just a number or a casket covered with the flag of the nation he loved. He was a man who loved and was loved. Who believed in something beyond himself and knew it was worth fighting and dying for. And so are the others who have fallen. Give them the peace of knowing their families are respected not preyed up on in their time of grief.
The way our Fallen Heroes should be honored and remembered....