Obama honors 30 fallen troops

Helicopter attack victims back in US

By Ben Feller
Associated Press / August 10, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The fallen come home here with such dignity that every American flag on every case of remains is inspected for the tiniest smudge. The dead are treated with reverence by everyone. Including their commander in chief.

For at least the second time in his presidency, Barack Obama was at Dover Air Force Base, Del., yesterday, saluting troops who died on his watch.

For Obama, it was a day to deal with the nation’s single deadliest day of the decadelong war in Afghanistan. For the families of the 30 Americans who were killed, it was a time to remember the dreams their loved ones had lived, not the ambitions that died with them.

Obama climbed aboard the two cargo planes carrying the fallen home from Afghanistan. Their helicopter apparently had been hit by an insurgent’s rocket-propelled grenade. Later, the president consoled their grieving families.

No family could give permission for media coverage, the military said, because no individual bodies had been identified yet.

The troops who died had been flying in a helicopter on a mission to help fellow forces under fire. An insurgent shot the aircraft down.

Saturday’s attack claimed 22 Navy SEALs, including Kevin Houston, who grew up on Cape Cod. They were from the same special forces team that pulled off the mission in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. None of those killed on the helicopter were part of the bin Laden raid, but the connection, along with the size of the loss, was deeply felt.

Three were from some the same Army reserve unit in Kansas: Bravo Company, Seventh Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment.

Seven Afghan commandos and one Afghan interpreter were also killed when the helicopter crashed in the Tangi Valley.

More than 250 family members and fellow servicemen and women gathered at the ceremony. Thirty cases came off the planes, draped in American flags.

For these troops and so many others over the months and years, Dover personnel eventually return the bodies, if possible, to their loved ones in whatever clothing the family chooses.

And always, with reverence.

“It is a very big source of pride, and a sense of duty and honor that we give to the fallen service members,’’ said Dover mortuary affairs spokesman Van Williams.

“We represent the nation,’’ he added. “And a grateful nation at that.’’