Returning to the United States, Feet First

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Woman fired for photo of flag-drapped coffins in Iraq

Thursday, April 22, 2004
Associated Press

SEATTLE - A cargo worker whose photograph of coffins bearing the remains of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq was published by The Seattle Times has been fired by the military contractor that employed her.

Tami Silicio and David Landry, a co-worker she recently married, were fired Wednesday by Maytag Aircraft Corp. of Colorado Springs, Colo., for violating federal government and company rules, said William L. Silva, president of Maytag and executive vice president of its corporate parent, Mercury Air Group Inc. of Los Angeles. He would not elaborate.

"I feel like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out," Silicio said. "I have to admit I liked my job and I liked what I did."

Landry wrote in an e-mail to The Times that he was proud of his wife, adding that they would soon return home.

In a policy that has drawn intense debate since it was adopted in 1991, the Pentagon bars news organizations from photographing caskets being returned to the United States, citing the sensitivities of bereaved families.

"We've made sure that all of the installations who are involved with the transfer of remains were aware that we do not allow any media coverage of any of the stops until (the casket) reaches its final destination," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Colin said.

Silva said Silicio, 50, of Edmonds, and her husband were fired after military officials raised "very specific concerns," which he would not identify.

"They were good workers, and we were sorry to lose them," Silva said. "They did a good job out in Kuwait and it was an important ob that they did."

In the year ending June 30, Maytag accounted for $24.4 million of Mercury's $429 million in revenue, roughly 5.7 percent.

Silicio, a mother of three who previously worked as a Seattle-area event decorator and as a truck driver for a different contractor in Kosovo, took the photograph of 20 flag-draped coffins in a cargo plane about to depart from Kuwait International Airport on an unspecified day in April.

She sent the image to Amy Katz, a stateside friend who worked with her in Kosovo. Katz provided it to The Times, which then obtained permission from Silicio to publish it without compensation.

It appeared in the center of the front page Sunday, along with an article on the war in Iraq and a locally produced feature on Silicio's job in Kuwait.

She said she hoped the photo would help show relatives of fallen soldiers the care and devotion that civilian and military crews devote to returning the remains of their loved ones.

"It wasn't my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything," Silicio said.

After appearing in The Times, the photograph was posted on Web sites and has been widely discussed over the Internet.

The Times reported Thursday that its decision to print the photograph was supported in most of the e-mails and telephone calls the newspaper has received from across the country.

Executive Editor Michael R. Fancher wrote about the decision to print the photograph in his weekly column Sunday and appeared Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" with Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who supports the Pentagon ban.

"Some will see the picture as an anti-war statement because the image is reminiscent of photos from the Vietnam era, when the press wasn't denied such access," Fancher wrote," but that isn't Silicio's or The Times' motivation."


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