Coffins, Photographs and the families rights

February 12, 2009 · Filed Under LAW, Military News, Military Parents, National Guard Parents, Parents News 

ParentsZone has always been fiercely apolitical, and will remain so. I don’t personally feel this is a totally political action or that it is strictly partisan.  This hits ALL of the military family equally, and there are a lot of questions that we are all asking.   The answers are not easy to find.  With this caveat:

As you may have read, the Secretary of Defense is reviewing the policy of taking photographs of coffins of the recently fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arriving at Dover AFB. This is one of those subjects that makes those of us who have family members serving – think, twitch and wonder what would we do.

As Andi on SpouseBuzz said – we plan funerals, in our heads. Yes, I’ve planned my husband’s  (with no help from him, other than a request for Dixie played by bagpipes).  I planned my son’s too.  (the music for that one was difficult too)  I haven’t had to use those plans…and I haven’t thought about the media, other than to hope they will show some respect. That, unfortunately, isn’t what has happened at many funerals. I went to nine funerals last deployment, and the media held back – it could have been that Midwestern reticence, but I’ll figure it was the Patriot Guard!

So how do I feel about it? I don’t honestly know. I’ve read other blogs about it, I’ve always thought that maybe the other 99% of the US population should see the true cost of the war; not just the money, but the lives – the lives lost, the lives shattered, the lives of the children losing a parent, the parent losing a child,  the lives of the friends who mourn. But those same families and friends have the right to mourn in private, to survive the pain without cameras in their faces.

How do I feel? Confused. I know that I understand the families’ point of view that don’t want the pictures taken, I know I understand those that say these coffins, when they arrive, don’t have names on them that can be seen by photographers, that no-one is saying that they want to take pictures of widows and parents receiving the coffins, but is this the slippery slope we hear so much about? If we allow a photograph of a coffin on a plane floor, does that mean we will allow a picture of a woman kissing the coffin, of a child hugging the coffin holding her daddy?

And I want Secretary Gates to ask us. Not the Generals, not the under secretary of whatever, ask us. We are the ones who this will affect, we are the ones who live with this possibility. Please, tell me what you think.



8 Responses to “Coffins, Photographs and the families rights”

  1. Kathy on February 13th, 2009 9:52 pm

    How do I feel about it? Well, I have also planned, dreamed about and imagined my son’s funeral, as many other loved ones do when they have a family member at war. If a picture of me hugging my son’s coffin helps bring the reality of his sacrifice home to many others, how could I oppose that? I live in the Midwest, and have seen first hand, been exposed to and heard the sect out of Kansas infringe upon the privacy of a military funeral. I was a huge proponent of Nebraska’s law that prohibits protestors at military funerals. But I agree, LAW, let Secretary Gates let US have a say in the matter.

  2. Biermann on February 14th, 2009 5:20 am


    It’s not about bringing the reality of the sacrifice to many others. It’s about the initial contact with the loved one lost. I can’t speak from experience, and hope that I never have to, but the issue is having the media cover the return of our fallen hero’s before the family gets the chance to be with them. I agree their story needs to be told, but let us that made that sacrifice along with them tend to our loved one first, just as we are to be notified first before it becomes public knowledge.

    If the unspeakable happens, I don’t want to see it on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, or the front page of our local news paper before I do. I want that moment to salute, hug, or cry to myself and my family. Afterwards, if I choose, I would have their story told and share it with the world.

    The group that you speak of from Kansas would love nothing more than to take those pictures of flag draped caskets to prove their point.

    This is just my view on the topic and I speak as a father of two Army Soldiers and has proudly served this country for over 20 years himself.


  3. Mamaw on February 14th, 2009 6:59 am

    I have seen the pictures of families whose lives will never be the same and I have had dreams of what it would be like at my son’s funeral. The very thought makes me cry just as the pictures did of the families at the airport retrieving their loved ones. My own view? The media was not there at his birth, why would they be there upon his death? I would rather it be private, family first, especially since he has small children. Yes, it does drive the point home, when we see the pictures of the tortured and grieving but at this point, no, I would rather not see my daughter-in-law pictured in a heap on the floor and I would not want my own private sorrow on the news. When I received a text message this past Veterans Day from my niece and it was caskets covered with American flags I was at work and I cried. It was sent with the intent that we not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice but it hit too close to home. We must keep our Troops at the forefront of the public but not at the cost of invading a private, horribly sad moment. In my opinion, it is up to the family as to what they choose to have made public or kept private.

  4. Some Soldier's Mom on February 14th, 2009 5:07 pm

    I have come closer than I ever imagined to actually having to plan one son’s funeral…

    Please have someone describe for me what lifting the ban on photographing the caskets will accomplish? Will publishing photos of the caskets bring relief and solace to the families of the dead? Will it advance the cause for which they died? Will it make the death(s) any more meaningful? Or will the release of such photos for any all purposes demean and belittle the sacrifice of the dead and their families?

    Some professor (in calling for a lift of the ban) said, “It’s a right for all Americans to pay their respects for those who made the sacrifice. It is not a right held exclusively for the families themselves.”

    it is a right that SHOULD be held exclusively for the families. If a family wants the media at their soldier’s arrival, fine… but otherwise they should remain barred. we do not hide our heroes. we speak their names. we tell their stories. we celebrate their lives. we mourn their deaths. and any who wish to honor those who died may join us in those undertakings. but the photos of the caskets are so singularly subject to misuse and abuse — to demean their deaths, to undermine the cause for which they willingly served, to serve purposes for which the dead have no say — THAT is why the ban should remain. if it takes photos of flag-draped caskets to inspire someone to mourn our war dead, “respecting” the dead is not their intention.

    What, exactly, will lifting the ban accomplish? And who will it profit? Yes, I see. Maintain the ban.

    Here is the link to the form to submit your comment to Dod/Gates on this

  5. Biermann on February 14th, 2009 11:45 pm

    Thanks for the link SSM, once again you have proven to be a great source for us parents.!

  6. Public or Private: Just say no Secretary Gates | Army Household6 on February 15th, 2009 3:10 am

    […] friend LAW talked about this over at Parents Zone As you may have read, the Secretary of Defense is reviewing the policy of taking photographs of […]

  7. One Army Mama Bear on February 18th, 2009 11:50 am

    This issue is a powerful and emotional one … anytime, but especially during deployment. I agree with LAW … Gates needs to allow US to make this choice. Thankfully, I have no experience meeting the flag covered coffin of one I love, but thousands have. I am a very private person and would not choose to invite media to a this moment. Military families know well the cost of the war. Ask us to share the stories of our soldiers… ask us to tell you about the men and women we love … ask us to tell you why they made the decision to defend our country, but don’t ask us to share ‘the last goodbye’. THAT is TOO MUCH to ask.

  8. Anonymous on April 17th, 2009 11:42 pm

    […] may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!My friend LAW talked about this over at Parents Zone As you may have read, the Secretary of Defense is reviewing the policy of taking photographs of […]

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