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Media invited to film soldier's coffin

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq on Tuesday defended her decision to invite news coverage of the arrival of her son’s flag-draped casket.
Members of a National Guard honor guard carry the flag-drapped coffin of Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey at Sacramento International Airport Monday.Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times
/ Source: The Associated Press

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq invited news coverage of the arrival of her son’s flag-draped casket at Sacramento International Airport.

Nearly a dozen reporters, photographers and television crews were present when the coffin of Army Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, 34, was transferred to a hearse outside a cargo terminal late Sunday. The scene was in stark contrast with Pentagon policy banning photographs of the coffins of dead military personnel while they are on military facilities.

McCaffrey “did not die for nothing. ... The way he lived needs to be talked about. Patrick was not a fighter, he was a peacemaker,” his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the Los Angeles Times.

“I wanted his body to be coming home, so I just decided to do it this way. It just happened,” she added Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

'This is enough'
While she said the invitation to the media wasn’t a political protest, she planned to continue speaking out against the war.

“This is enough,” she told the Times. “We have to react.”

Patrick McCaffrey and another soldier, both members of the California National Guard’s 579th Engineer Battalion, were killed June 22 in an ambush.

Citing privacy concerns, the military bans photographs and visual recordings of returning remains. Critics say the policy makes it harder for citizens to understand the reality, and costs, of war.

Debate over whether the public should see the coffins of war dead flared in April when The Seattle Times published a front-page photograph of caskets in a cargo plane in Kuwait and a First Amendment activist posted on his Web site dozens of similar images from Dover, Del., site of the nation’s largest military mortuary.

No violation in this case
The coverage of Patrick McCaffrey’s return did not violate the policy because of where the coffin was, officials said.

The Pentagon’s rules “are specifically for the airlift command, when the caskets are on the military plane,” said Lt. Jonathan Shiroma, spokesman for the California National Guard. “This is a commercial jet, so it’s a different jurisdiction, so to speak. We cannot stop the media from filming.”

A funeral was scheduled Thursday in McCaffrey’s hometown of Tracy.

In addition to helping his fellow soldiers as a medic, McCaffrey worked to help civilians in Iraq, his mother said.

She told ABC he concentrated on children because “they don’t have anything — there is no running water, no electricity or food. So he was giving whatever he could.”