DOVER, Del. -- As the family of Marine Lance Corporal Russell P. White watched in silence this week, a military detachment at Dover Air Force Base transferred a flag-draped case from an airplane into a waiting hearse.
White's family is the first to take advantage of a new Defense Department policy allowing families of war dead to witness the arrival of remains at the nation's largest military mortuary.
The policy change is spelled out in a memo quietly issued last month by the Pentagon. Previously, the government prohibited family members and the media from witnessing the arrival of remains at Dover, and discouraged families from visiting the base. But the Pentagon changed its policy after critics accused it or trying to hide negative images of war. The restriction on media access remains in place, with the Senate refusing to overturn the ban.
Under the new policy, families, or their designated representatives, may witness the return of the remains of military members, Defense Department civilian employees, contractors, and others whose bodies are brought to Dover. No photographs or visual recordings are allowed.