Honoring War Dead - Even without Obama

When President Obama traveled to Dover, Delaware last month to view the return of America's war dead, the media cameras were out in force. But what happens all the other nights when the president isn't there? CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell got a rare look at a reality of war that the government until recently didn't want us to see.

The military does not call it a ceremony, but a solemn event - the dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base when the nation's war dead are returned to U.S. soil.

Until eight months ago, images of that transfer were officially off limits to the public.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates allowed media access last April, but left it up to the families of the dead to choose whether to permit press coverage.

First Sergeant John David Blair, from Lawrenceville, Ga., was killed in Afghanistan last June. His wife Donna allowed media coverage of his dignified transfer.

"Dover is an experience all its own," Donna Blair said. "Even though it's not a service - it's like this silent - it's like a peace."

"The media is not coming up here to bother me," she said. "They are wanting to see and they deserve the right to see these American heroes come home."

The military makes the request about media coverage right after families receive the most devastating news.

"The doorbell rang and my son came and got me and said there's two men at the door wanting to talk to you," Blair recalled. "Of course when I seen them, I knew. You just don't want to know, but you know."

Though she was shattered by her husband's death, she agreed to allow the press to be at Dover. Since the ban was lifted, some 80 percent of families have permitted some sort of coverage.

"They appreciate that we have the ability not only for them to honor their loved ones, but for the public media to go out and have a story, to put a face with a name," said First Lieutenant Joseph Winter of the Air Force's Mortuary Affairs office.

After extensive coverage when the ban was lifted, media attention has waned. For more than a third of the transfers, the Associated Press has been the only agency to send photographers to Dover.

When President Obama attended a dignified transfer last month, 24 members of the media recorded the images, which were seen around the world.

But the next night, at the dignified transfer of Lance Cpl. Cody Stanley, there were four people there to film it besides CBS News - two from the military, and two photo agencies.

Donna Blair believes the press should be there to record the transfers, each and every time.

I feel like they should cover all these guys. The nation needs to know what these guys put an effort to do, and the sacrifices they pay for their rights.
  • CBSNews

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter