POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 02:23 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. » 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 the second time in his presidency, Barack Obama was at Dover on Tuesday, saluting troops who died on his watch.
Sadness hung everywhere. For Obama it was a day to deal with the nation's single deadliest day of the decade-long war in Afghani-stan. For the families of the 30 Americans who were killed, it was a time to remember their loved ones.
Obama solemnly climbed aboard the two C-17 cargo planes carrying the fallen home from Afghanistan to pay respects. Their helicopter apparently had been hit by an insurgent's rocket-propelled grenade.
Later, the president consoled their grieving families. He stood as the flag-covered cases were carried off the planes in front of him.
The country didn't see it.
There will be no lasting, gripping images this time of Obama assuming his office's grimmest role. No family could give permission for media coverage, the military said, because no individual bodies had been identified.
The helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Saturday was that horrific.
For Americans with no sons, daughters, other relatives or friends in the military, this punch seemed to blindside everyone. The war is supposed to be winding down, and the face behind it, Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Osama bin Laden, was killed months ago by elite U.S. forces.
Saturday's blow claimed 22 Navy SEALs from the same special forces team that pulled off the remarkable mission in Pakistan that ended bin Laden. None of those killed on the helicopter were part of that raid, but the connection, along with the size of the loss, was deeply felt.
The troops who died had been flying on a mission to help fellow forces under fire.
The fallen were described as intensely patriotic, talented and passionate about the risks and responsibilities that came with their jobs.
Some were married with children. One wanted to be an astronaut. Another was going to propose to his girlfriend when he got home.
Three were from the same Army reserve unit in Kansas: Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment.
Seven Afghan commandos and one Afghan interpreter were killed, too, when the helicopter crashed in the Tangi Valley.
On Tuesday, 30 cases draped in American flags came off the planes; eight others were covered in Afghan flags.
The president had flown by helicopter to Dover.
The trip was kept private by the White House until he landed, as a measure of security, although expectations of his presence were high from shortly after the 30 troops died.
Upon arriving, Obama boarded one plane carrying remains to pay respects to the fallen, then did so again on the second plane.
He then met with about 250 family members and fellow servicemen and women of the dead. He spent about 70 minutes with family members, offering his condolences and gratitude for their sacrifice and service, the White House said. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen joined in.
Reporters were kept out of sight in a nearby building.