Yesterday, the Pentagon decided to allow the media to cover the homecoming of dead soldiers with the family's consent. In a piece for us today, Graeme Wood argues that the military didn't go far enough:
U.S. Marines, not noted for their sentimentality, call the flights that carry their dead comrades home "angel flights." I witnessed my first of these at a remote airfield in Anbar province, Iraq, in 2005. For about an hour, all activity on the tarmac ceased, including my own unloading of a 727 in my job as a commercial shipper. A furious Marine officer ran to confront me and demand that my pilot cut the 727's engines. The pilot protested--his plane was nearly unloaded, and he wanted to fly to a safer airport as soon as possible--but the Marine permitted no debate. The engines powered down, and in the desert silence, from a distance of a few hundred feet, I could hear the clopping of individual boots as hundreds of Marines filed in to stand at attention and watch the chilled metal box proceed slowly into the belly of the plane.
That ceremony, like the transfer of remains that greeted the corpse when it touched down at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, was closed to press. In Anbar, they let me watch only from a distance, and because to move my plane would have been impractical. When the next dead soldier comes home to U.S. soil, the homecoming ceremony probably will probably not be closed: Amid controversy, the Pentagon has decided to allow the media to cover the Dover ceremonies, if the kin of the deceased consent. But in his announcement, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said nothing about the transfer of remains that happens in theater, among the fellow soldiers and Marines who have to send their fallen colleague home. The end of the blackout is a step forward, and should extend to the angel flights as well.