MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Last night marked the end of a nearly 20-year-old Pentagon ban on media coverage of returning U.S. war dead. About two dozen members of the media were present as the body of Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Myers was killed by an explosion in Afghanistan on Saturday. Cabeza Cardoza of member station WAMU spoke with members of the honor guard who meet the planes as they arrive at Dover. Here, they share some of their stories and reflections.
Unidentified Man #1: There's usually not a lot of talking that goes on.
Unidentified Man #2: It's very windy, very cold. It's a hazardous area. You're on the airfield; there's always major equipment moving around.
Unidentified Man #1: It's our job to make sure that we transfer from the plane to the mortuary truck. We never know the names of the service members that we're going out there to transfer.
Unidentified Man #3: We have to march out to the plane. At that time, you know, I can see the transfer cases, the caskets, you know, inside of the plane lined up - metal casket with the flag over it. I mean, I've never seen a casket like that before. You know, just on TV, pictures like that, but in person it's different. So I think even my legs were a little shaky.
Unidentified Man #4: The chaplin says a prayer at the very beginning and they take the transfer case, march it down the (unintelligible), lower it.
Unidentified Man #2: We march up in a formation — the seven of us — two columns of three and one behind, calling the cadence like left, right, left, right, just so we can all stay in step. There's no music or nothing like that. Even the commands that we call out, they're not loud.
Unidentified Man #1: I can feel my heart beating, every part of my body just feels like I'm a - I'm just one big heart, just pounding.
Unidentified Man #4: I remember bending over to pick it up for the first time, you know, you see a folded flag over a transfer case. There's really no words to describe how I felt, maybe empty. And it just didn't - it didn't seem there was a world past where I was, at that point.
Unidentified Man #3: You never know if there's a 6-foot-5 person in there weighing like 300 pounds, and then the dead weight, it makes it even heavier. And there's ice; that makes it really heavy. Sometimes, it's really light because not - the whole body doesn't come back. There might just be a leg in here or something.
Unidentified Man #2: It hits home: This is a service number who's made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. You're there to make sure that, you know, he gets to where he needs to go safely.
Unidentified Man #4: All these thoughts coming in your head, you know, was he young, was he old? You don't know if it's a man or woman, could be like a rank of private or a colonel. What type of person he is, where he's from. I mean, I wonder what he liked to do; if he was a mother or father or son. They're never going to be able to complain about like, oh, I have to go to work. You know, I have to go buy groceries, you know, it's cold outside - little things like that.
Unidentified Man #3: My very first one, I had one tear and I had to put myself together, you know. I know that if I were in that transfer case, that I wouldn't want the Marines carrying me to be weeping and doing this because that's not what I would want. And we know that that's not what that Marine would want as well.
Unidentified Man #1: The one thing with a Dover shot is that you can't really forget them. I remember every one I've ever done. It's just - these are your boys, you know?
Unidentified Man #4: I haven't known any of them. And when I get out there, I feel like, you know, like I've been serving with them, the whole time I've been in the Marine Corps, just - when I pick up a fallen brother, I feel like, you know, it's like family.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: You heard the voices of John Perry, Roberto Ross Igleosi, Corey Taylor and Eric Zurlos.