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New Pentagon policy adds poignancy to Memorial Day

Families can now witness the return to the US of the remains of service members killed in action, according to a six-week-old rule. For many, it is an important rite.

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US soldiers pay respects to several fallen comrades, including 1st Lt. Roslyn 'Roz' Schulte, during a Memorial Day observance ceremony at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

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It is 1 a.m. and nearly dark on the flight line but for the spray of pinkish light that shines at the open door of a cargo plane.

The flag-covered box inside looks like every other one that has come through here. But the family standing in the plane's shadows soon recognizes it as their box. It carries the remains of 1st Lt. Roslyn 'Roz' Schulte, the spirited young Air Force officer who showed such promise, killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Wednesday. As the box is taken to a waiting truck, the family quietly mourns, grateful at least to be here.

Until recently, the Schultes would have found it difficult to come. Nor could they have invited the media to share their daughter¹s sacrifice with a grateful nation. Six weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates overturned a Gulf War-era policy that discouraged families and barred the media from witnessing the return of America¹s war dead. The elder President Bush instituted the ban in the belief that pictures of casualties would turn public opinion against the war effort. [EDITOR'S NOTE: .]

Yet on Memorial Day, the change in policy has particular poignancy. For many families who have had loved ones killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, coming to Dover – and inviting the media to witness their grief – has appeared to be in tune with their wishes. Since the policy change, the remains of 42 service members killed in action have come through Dover as of Thursday; 35 families have accepted the offer to be there, and 30 of those have requested media to attend, as well.

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