Lautenberg to Obama: Don't Hide Our Fallen Troops at Dover Air Force Base

President is urged to open up the Dover Air Force Base arrivals of American troops killed in wars.

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By Paul Bedard and Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

President Obama is under more pressure this week to let media cameras cover the arrival of war dead at Dover Air Force Base. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, in a letter to Obama provided to Whispers, said, "I respectfully urge you to work to bring an end to the misguided policies of the past that seek to hide the sacrifice of our soldiers and the public recognition and pride that should accompany it." The policy is controversial on all sides: Some claim the government wants to soften the impact of many coffins being pictured at once; others say taking pictures is disrespectful. Lautenberg has been outspoken on the issue for several years and pushed for a reversal of the policy in 2004, in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Officials say that Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, and the administration have been discussing the policy. "Throughout our nation's history, it has been a tradition for our nation to honor fallen military men and women when their flag-draped caskets are flown home from war operations overseas. Seeing these returning caskets prompts a national sense of shared pain and sacrifice, as well as gratitude and pride," the senator said in the letter.

His letter comes as HBO debuts the movie Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon, which will also give this issue more attention. The flick is gut-wrenching and depicts the caskets of fallen soldiers as they arrive at the Delaware air base. But it also details another practice that hasn't gotten much ink. After service members who have been killed in action are brought to Dover, they are accompanied to their hometowns with a uniformed escort and are saluted at every stop along the way. In Taking Chance, Bacon's character is based on Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who volunteered for escort duty upon seeing that he and a fallen marine shared the same hometown. The movie chronicles Bacon's escort duty from Delaware to Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps's funeral service in Wyoming. Bacon tells Whispers that he was unfamiliar with this practice before reading the movie script. And while the actor has played a marine in the movies three times, he says that this role was by far the most difficult. "It's a lot about expressions and trying to play it with your eyes and not your words," he says.

In real life, Bacon supports the military community. His band, the Bacon Brothers, has played for service members recovering at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval hospitals. And on the horizon Bacon has something even bigger in mind—a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan. "We haven't done any kind of USO tour with the band yet, and it's often something we thought about doing," he says. "It's a long trip and it's sometimes hard to schedule, but it's definitely something we hope to do."

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