Access Denied: Arlington War Dead Funerals

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I only visited our great nation's capital once before I moved here to become a serious and important journalist. (ha) It was for a family vacation in the dead of August. My mom, an AP history teacher, wanted to see the places she taught about firsthand. I can remember our visit to Arlington National Cemetery. The air was thick and dripping with humidity. I was cranky, to see the least. As fortune would have it, we arrived right as the Changing of the Guard was about to commence. I remember the precision and utter seriousness with which the elaborate ritual was carried out. And I had to fight the urge to yell out something silly to make the guards smile, as is fashionable at Buckingham Palace.

Well, turns out, the Changing of the Guards is about as much a ceremony as the public has access to, unless you're a relative of the war dead. Last week, Dana Milbank, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, published an article about how the government is limiting media coverage of funerals of the war dead at Arlington Cemetery, even after families consent to coverage. Gina Gray, former Public Affairs Director for the Cemetery, publicly opposed the Pentagon's limitations. She was demoted, then fired — she believes, as retaliation. And, now, military authorities are examining her termination. Dana and Gina join us today to give us the story.

If you have questions about media access to military funerals, or if you and your family have been through the experience, tell us your story.

Comments

 

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I am proud to say my mom and my dad are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Mom in 1962 and Dad in 1972. I wish there were media coverage at the time, as it was a beautiful ceremony in each case and I wish I had physical memories of it. Technology was scarce in those days. All I have are beautiful memories, which is something.

Sent by Maggie Mikos | 3:50 PM | 7-14-2008

I remember during the Viet nam war one often saw caskets and military funerals on TV. There was even a death toll posted every night on the evening news. This information helped gain the public support for ending that war. Don't you think this is why the current administration doesn't allow coverage of these funerals at Arlington? We are instead bombarded with support the troops propaganda instead of really understanding the consequences of war.

Sent by Inget Namn | 4:02 PM | 7-14-2008

This is the evolution in American life to a use of military death noted by Reinhard Koselleck in 1978 over WWI German response to death," "The war memorial,as a political tool...gives the remembering of the soldiers' death as earthly function directed only towards the future of those still living... This disappearance of the Christian interpretation of death creates a vacuum for the establishment of purely social and poltical meanings." cited in Stefan Goebel's THE GREAT WAR AND MEDIEVAL MEMORY (Cambridge 2007) pp.3-4. The state disposes of the soldier's' life and may use his death & memory to justify past and present policies. It also neutralises criticism by invoking a pretense of concern for families. One recalls that the state ignored Vietnam vets, and their public memorialisation because their sacrifice reminded citizens of a government's failure.

Sent by Janine C Hartman | 4:09 PM | 7-14-2008

Journalists claim privacy when it comes to their sources, but trample on the public's right to privacy in something as deeply personal as a serviceman's funeral at Arlington. I have no sympathy for the former director, who overstepped her responsibilities to the honored dead and their families.

Sent by Steve_G | 4:09 PM | 7-14-2008

As a Viet Nam era veteran I support the families who want the media present at military funerals.
I have had the sad honor and privilege to be a member of the Honor Guard at several military funerals. The general public needs to see and experience the solemn honor and respect the military affords the fallen. For their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their loved ones.

In a nation where a "thank you", is often answered with "uh huh", or not at all, the formality and ceremony reminds us of the the value of people as individuals.

The images and sounds of a military funeral are something the majority of the American public will never have to experience because of the sacrifices made by or men and women if the armed forces.

One of the most difficult and at the same time the most proud moments of my life is to present the American flag to a grieving love one and have the honor to utter the words, "with the thanks of a grateful nation".

Perhaps if the general public were to see and hear these words, they would be more aware of the consequences of armed conflict.

Sent by Edward Lee | 4:41 PM | 7-14-2008

Re Monday, 7-14 program re media coverage At Arlington National Cemetery: The men and women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't die for their Army,their Air Force, Marine Corps. or their generals; they died for their COUNTRY. If relatives want to share their military burial with their countrymen what is there to be scared of? As you may know,there have been numerous Americans of Mexican descent from South Texas who have lost their lives in the Iraq war and many have been buried at Fort Sam National Cemetery. I've seen photos take at Fort Sam during these burial ceremonies in the SA Express News and I try to pause at these moments to say a prayer for the family left behind.
There will soon be another funeral at Fort Sam, that of Army Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, who has been missing in Iraq for over a year since he was kidnapped in 2007. His body was found last week. I sincerely hope there will be media coverage of his military funeral We all need to pay our respects and share in this family's loss. Once again, I'll be saying a prayer.
See San Antoniio Express, Saturday, July 12, 20008. "S.A. Family's Agonizing Wait Ends."

Sent by Patricia D. Peak | 4:55 PM | 7-14-2008

Please remember this:
These are PRIVATE funerals, held in a public place.
Would you want unrelated, uninvited, and distracting people gawking at YOUR departed's funeral? Funerals were never a "spectators sport".

Sent by Harold | 12:55 PM | 7-15-2008

Neither Gina Gray, nor anyone associated with the solemn ceremonies associated with these burials, is suggesting that the media should "trample" on the event. If the families do not want them present, then they are not allowed. However, if the families do want them there to help honor the sacrifices of their loved one, then get the Arlington bureaucrats Higginbotham and White out of the way. Until they're gone, the families' wishes will be ignored, and the nation will hardly know of the sacrifices of these honored men and women.

Sent by Ellis Falcon | 11:54 PM | 7-15-2008

Funerals are for the families. It is a private time. If the media were let in, the first thing you would see is some self serving reporter shoving a camera in the face of a mother, dad, or spouse and asking "How do you feel." The Government is only trying to protect the family in a private time of bereavement. No secrecy, coverups or anything like that, just no media circus.

Sent by Tom Bourlier | 12:56 PM | 7-16-2008