Wife to attend fallen airman's arrival

April 5, 2009 7:29:51 PM PDT
The military says the wife of an airman whose remains are being returned to the U.S. in a ceremony the media will be allowed to witness will be among those meeting the plane. Family members gave their permission for the media to be at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. It will be the first such opportunity since the Obama administration overturned an 18-year ban on news coverage of returning war dead.

An eight-person team will bring the flag-draped coffin with the remains of Air Force staff Sgt. Philip Myers off the 747 after a chaplain says a prayer.

The Department of Defense says Myers of Hopewell, Va., was killed April 4 in Afghanistan.

The military says Myers' wife will not talk to the press.

Myers was a member of the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron with the Royal Air Force in Lakenheath, England, one of the bases the U.S. Air Force uses in the country. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery three weeks ago in recognition of his efforts in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Department of Defense said. His body was expected to return at 11 p.m.

The new Pentagon policy gives families a choice of whether to admit the press to ceremonies at Dover, home to the nation's largest military mortuary and the entry point to the U.S. for service personnel killed overseas.

Critics of the previous policy had said the government was trying to hide the human cost of war.

President Barack Obama had asked for a review of the ban, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the blanket restriction made him uncomfortable. The administration will let families decide whether to allow photographs.

For example, if several caskets arrive on the same flight, news coverage will be allowed only for those whose families have given permission.

The ban was put in place by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf War. From the start, it was cast as a way to shield grieving families.

One objection to lifting the ban had been that if the media were present, some families might feel obligated to come to Dover for the brief, solemn ritual in which honor guards carry the caskets off a plane. Few families now choose to attend, in part because doing so means leaving home and the support system of friends at a difficult time. The sudden trip can also be expensive and logistically difficult to arrange.

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