Looking weary, Tami Silicio, 50, of Edmonds, and her husband, David Landry, embraced their friends and family members Thursday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport while a handful of onlookers applauded.
Maytag Aircraft Corp. fired the couple last week after the photo first appeared on the front page of The Seattle Times in its Sunday, April 18 edition.
The picture shows several workers inside a cargo plane at Kuwait International Airport securing 20 flag-draped coffins for the trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The photo has since been posted on Web sites and widely discussed on the Internet.
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, said she had no idea the photograph would cause a national debate, and insisted there was no political motivation behind the picture.
"It was taken from my heart," Silicio said. "I was pretty much overwhelmed with ... what I was looking at."
Maytag fired the couple because they "violated Department of Defense and company policies by working together" to take and publish the photograph, company president William Silva said in a news release last week.
Friends and family said they were proud of Silicio.
"I think no matter what happens she's at peace with herself," said Lisa Silicio while she awaited her sister's arrival.
Tami Silicio 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's been unimaginable," said Katz, 36, of the attention the photograph has garnered. "Who could have ever anticipated anything like this? It feels like a movie."
Under a policy adopted in 1991, the Pentagon bars news organizations from photographing caskets being returned to the United States, saying publication of such photos would be insensitive to bereaved families.
The Pentagon announced last week that it would no longer release photographs of dead soldiers arriving at the military mortuary in Dover. The White House said President Bush believes family privacy should be respected, but Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the public should see the images.
Though the photo depicts the tragedy of losing U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the public should not forget about the Iraqis who have died in the conflict, Landry said.
The couple said they have no job prospects and are not sure what their next step will be.
Despite that, when asked if she had any regrets, Silicio gave a faint smile and drew on words from Mother Teresa:
"If you really love one another, you can't avoid making sacrifices," she said.