"It begins with a knock at the door."
October 12, 2011 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Final Salute. Between 2004 and 2005, "Rocky Mountain News reporter Jim Sheeler and photographer Todd Heisler spent a year with the Marines stationed at Aurora's Buckley Air Force Base who have found themselves called upon to notify families of the deaths of their sons in Iraq. In each case in this story, the families agreed to let Sheeler and Heisler chronicle their loss and grief. They wanted people to know their sons, the men and women who brought them home, and the bond of traditions more than 200 years old that unite them. Though readers are led through the story by the white-gloved hand of Maj. Steve Beck, he remains a reluctant hero. He is, he insists, only a small part of the massive mosaic that is the Marine Corps." The full story ran on Veteran's Day, 2005 and won two Pulitzer Prizes: one for Feature Photography, another for feature writing in 2006. A nice single-page version of one section: Katherine Cathey and 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey (via.) The Rocky Mountain News closed in 2009.

The entire story, as it appeared in the paper's magazine section, can be downloaded here as a pdf.

Slideshow:
The night before the burial of her husband's body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her, tucking in the sheets below the flag. Before she fell asleep, she opened her laptop computer and played songs that reminded her of "Cat," and one of the Marines asked if she wanted them to continue standing watch as she slept. "I think it would be kind of nice if you kept doing it," she said. "I think that's what he would have wanted."
posted by zarq (12 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know I'm supposed to look beyond politics and see the real people behind these stories, but I always feel a little manipulated when I read pieces like this. I can't help but feel that these references to tradition and military honour and so on just add to the general fetish we seem to have about the military.

This is not about being able to handle the truth, as it were, but more of an outsider's perspective on how embedded these actors are in the unspoken rules and liminalities of war.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't help but feel that these references to tradition and military honour and so on just add to the general fetish we seem to have about the military.

This may be one outcome, but I can also say, having grown up in an Army-centric family, that they can mean a lot to the people directly involved.

Not everyone; some people are just enraged at their loss. But there is a moving dignity to many of the traditions, and a camaraderie from fellow soldiers of a kind that I think can only probably come when you know from personal experience exactly what it is like to be in a difficult position between nation and family, and in harm's way.
posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on October 12, 2011


double?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2011


rmd1023: "double?"

Ugh. *grumble*
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on October 12, 2011


I believe the statute of limitations on doubles is only a couple of years, certainly less than six. I say keep it.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:01 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


[yeah six years later is fine, go on...]
posted by jessamyn at 2:13 PM on October 12, 2011


Buckley stood watch over my son Josh. The tradition and military honor is a vital part of the grieving process, for not just the family, but also the people who served along side the fallen. It's not for the purpose of making him a martyr, but to acknowledge that his death affected (and still affects) many people. It is a way we safeguard that our loved ones are not treated as just a statistic, and hopefully caution those who place soldiers in peril to do so only out of great necessity.
posted by figment of my conation at 5:13 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course, the main reason I remembered it from six years ago was how memorable and well done the article was.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:25 PM on October 12, 2011


Thank you, Jessamyn.

figment of my conation, I'm very sorry for your loss. :(
posted by zarq at 6:17 PM on October 12, 2011


Civrmnky, as someone who is married to a serving officer, I can kind of see your point. Hopefully I will never be in this situation, and I think if I was I would not want the military involved in my grieving process. Not because I am anti-military, but because to me our family's grief would be a private thing.
However, I do know for many people, the traditions and rituals are important to them, and help them, and as Figment of my conation says, it is a way of showing respect and honour.

Also, it is not just a military thing - this kind of ritualisation happens with police forces, and other emergency forces, in some parts of the world.
posted by Megami at 1:15 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I interviewed Jim Sheeler last year about the book version of Final Salute, shortly after he arrived on campus here. What a powerful book it is! And he's doing some great work with our students, getting them to connect with people they might not otherwise.
posted by billcicletta at 6:29 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am listening to an audiobook called "The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian, the making of a Navy SEAL" by a veteran named Eric Greitens. He tells about growing up in Moussouri, learning to box, spending time doing humanitarian work in Bosnia & Rawanda & other garden spots, was a Rhodes Scholar, and eventually finished with SEAL training and service in Afghanistan & Iraq. His point is that wanting to help without being willing to act is empty (e.g., the uselessness of writing a letter of complaint when facing the horrors of the war in Yougoslavia in the 1990s)...and that people find real value and validationin working on behalf of others.

Anyway, he now runs a group called The Mission Continues. He and a fellow Marine spent time with a fallen comrade's family after they got back from Iraq. They decided to do something of value for other vets as a tribute to their late friend Travis Manion. And their group challenges wounded and disabled veterans to find a new opportunity to continue to serve their community, their country, or other vets -- and then they place them in a fellowship with a non-profit.

I mention this because Greitens and his friend (whose name escapes me, I am sorry to say) only started this group as a tribute to their friend Travis. They were so moved by Travis's family's belief in service that this seemed the only fitting tribute.

I may be rambling, but I was very impressed by this story and by the scope of the peoject that Greitens undertook in response to his friend's death.

Also the article in the OP is one of the more moving pieces I have ever read, and I am glad it's been reposted.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:18 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


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