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Media Allowed to Report on Return of Fallen US Soldiers

A solemn U.S. rite of wartime was held again Sunday night at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the body of Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers was returned to the U.S. in pomp and ceremony. But there was a difference. For the first time in 18 years, U.S. media were allowed to witness the return, the result of a decision by the Obama White House to lift a ban spanning several administrations.

Only the clicks of cameras shattered the silence as an Air Force team prepared to carry the flag-draped coffin of Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers who died in Afghanistan.

The military says the 30-year-old airman was killed by an improvised explosive device.

Myers was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery last year.

His family was asked under a new Pentagon policy whether it wished to have media coverage of the body's arrival at Dover Air Force Base. The family agreed, but declined to be interviewed.

Reporters have been blocked from covering the arrivals of U.S. war dead since 1991, when President George H.W. Bush imposed the ban during Operation Desert Storm.

Although the U.S. insisted the ban was to protect the privacy of grieving families, critics have argued the government was trying to hide the human cost of war.

In February, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed the policy.

"I have decided that the decision regarding media coverage of the dignified transfer process at Dover should be made by those most directly affected - on an individual basis by the families of the fallen," Gates said.

At the World War II Memorial in Washington, Paul Schwartz of Fairfax, Virginia and his wife Jean had these reactions.

"I think dignity and respect have to be the hallmarks of it," Mr. Schwartz said. "And if that can be maintained and the families agree, let it happen."

"I personally find it an invasion of privacy," Mrs. Schwartz said, "and I know that people have a choice, but the media tends to sometimes get a little too aggressive and I don't know that they're always going to cover this with grace."

Roland Miller of the central U.S. state of Nebraska has no reservations.

"The return of a body definitely should be brought before the public to show the price of war," he said.

At the Dover ceremony, journalists were asked to be silent.

Under the new policy, if several bodies arrive at Dover on the same flight, news coverage will be limited to those whose families have given their consent.