Surviving the Fallen: Military Families and the Dignified Transfer

By Ariana Pekary, producer

As the United States rounds out nine years at war, the remains of fallen service men and women return to American soil at a rate now of more than one per day.  Each body lands at the Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware and is honored in a quiet event called a “dignified transfer.”  We chronicle the process of receiving America’s men and women killed overseas, from the moment they land at Dover until the family lays them to rest.  In “Surviving the Fallen,” military staff, a Dover photographer, and family members describe the procedural, emotional, and spiritual experience of paying respect to our war fallen.

In the spring of 2009, President Barack Obama ended the media ban on dignified transfers, a solemn event in which the flag draped cases containing the bodies of U.S. service men and women touch back on American soil for the first time.  The imagery of the event heavily influenced public opinion during the Vietnam War, but public concern over the war in Afghanistan is comparatively low.  One recent New York Times/CBS poll found that only three-percent of Americans think that the war is the biggest problem facing the nation, yet the reality of our war dead is forefront for the military members handling the remains and the families who must say their final goodbyes.  “Surviving the Fallen” is a tribute to those who live beyond the Americans who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Below are photos of a dignified transfer as well as images from Arlington National Cemetery.  For full descriptions, go to our photo page.



Here are some links for reference:

Merrilee Carlson, featured in today’s story, is the President of Families United, the organization she founded after her son died in Afghanistan in 2005.  

Also see:

Families of the Fallen


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America


U.S. Air Force suicide prevention information


Department of Veterans Affairs 


Tomb of the Unknowns


Songs featured on today’s broadcast (in order):

“Compass,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

“Daylight Again,” Crosby, Stills & Nash

 “All That You Ask Me,” Solas

“I Hear a Call,” Emmylou Harris

“Girl in the War,” Josh Ritter

“Help Me,” Johnny Cash

“Big Sam Thompson,” Chris Thile

“Wait a Minute,” Alan Jackson

“Lay Me Down,” Crosby & Nash

“A Long Goodbye,” David Mallet

“Ghost in This House,” Allison Krauss