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Intricate Rituals for Fallen Americans Troops -

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“Blanchard,” the plate read.

Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, a 32-year-old Army pilot, had been in Afghanistan for only a few days when an enemy rocket killed him and another soldier last month as they dashed toward their helicopter. Now he was heading home.

But before he left the mortuary here, he would need to be properly dressed. And so Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes labored meticulously, almost lovingly, over every crease and fold, every ribbon and badge, of the dress uniform that would clothe Captain Blanchard in his final resting place.

“It’s more than an honor,” Sergeant Deynes said. “It’s a blessing to dress that soldier for the last time.”

About 6,700 American service members have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost every one of their remains have come through the Dover Port Mortuary. Yet only since 2009 have journalists been allowed to photograph coffins returning from the war zones, the most solemn of rites at this air base. The intimate details of the process have been kept from public view.

6700 seems like a lot. It's a lot, right?

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