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Skyline - Houston, Texas

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Obama meets military death plane, speaks with grieving families

President Barack Obama and Army Assistant Judge Advocate Maj. Gen. Daniel Wright salute as an Army carry team transports the case containing the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind., at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del.


The Commander's Duty Done

In his midnight mission to honor the returning war dead, President Obama did more than personally extend the nation’s condolences to grieving families gathered at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Without uttering a public word, Mr. Obama erased President George W. Bush’s shameful attempts to hide the pain of war from Americans and to shield himself from paying public tribute to the thousands who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The long-overdue display of national gratitude and regret by the commander in chief rekindled a note of most solemn ritual that the country owes sons and daughters in uniform sacrificed in war. The president was restoring a post-Vietnam tradition that included the graphic embraces and wrenching words personally extended by President Ronald Reagan to the families of the 241 soldiers, sailors and Marines who perished 26 years ago in the bombing of the Marines' camp in Lebanon.

The Bush policy was to prohibit any news media coverage of the returning war dead and to never show the president within a camera-lens' length of the dolorous homecomings. Under Mr. Obama, the Pentagon reversed the no-coverage policy in February. On Thursday, the president himself took the necessary next step.

He silently saluted in the morning darkness as the remains of 18 Americans killed this week in Afghanistan were transferred from a military transport. He spent close to two hours talking in private with stricken families. One of them gave approval for the news media to show the nation its loved one's arrival before the president and assembled officers. Within minutes, of course, bloggers were reacting. Some were grateful. Others denounced Mr. Obama for photo-op exploitation even as they demanded he hurry up and decide whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

The true cost of war must never be denied by the nation or its leader. Mr. Obama's visit was entirely appropriate as he faces the decision of what comes next in Afghanistan. The pity is President Bush never dared as much.

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