This is a picture the military has never let anyone see until now.
This is a picture behind the scenes at Dover Air Force Base where the bodies of fallen soldiers are prepared for burial.
And that includes being properly dressed, all the way down to the smallest detail.
In this picture Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes is making sure the uniform is just right for an army pilot recently killed in Afghanistan.
There is a very specific process once a fallen soldier is returned home.
The bodies are flown back to the U.S. on a cargo jet.
A team of service members wearing white gloves carries the coffins, covered with flags, to a white van that takes them to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner.
The remains are washed, the hands are scrubbed clean, and the hair is shampooed. If necessary bones are wired together and damaged tissue is reconstructed with flesh-toned wax.
Sometimes they will use photos, sometimes just intuition to recreate the wrinkles in faces, and the lines around the mouth or the corner of the eyes.
“It has to look normal, like someone who is sleeping.”
Once the body is ready then the uniform is prepared.
That includes putting medals in the proper order on the ribbon rack above the jacket’s breast pocket.
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 10 to 20 bodies were arriving every day.
The embalmers often worked all night to get the bodies home on time. That can take an emotional toll so the mortuary has a large gym so workers can blow off steam.
Many say they are haunted by how young the fallen soldiers are, and by how many of them leave behind small children.
That’s why Sgt. Deynes says they are advised not to do research into the backgrounds of the soldiers.
“If I knew the story of every individual who went through here, I would probably be in a padded cell.”
The dress uniform being prepared in this particular case will be in a closed casket.
Even so, it will be perfectly tailored, starched and pressed. Everything will be checked down to the last detail.
Sgt. Deynes says, “They’re (the family) not going to see it. I do it for myself. It’s more than an honor it’s a blessing to dress that soldier for the last time.”
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