Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives ~ Jim Sheeler

finalsalute1They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear. It begins with a knock at the door. “The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know,” said Major Steve Beck.

Since the start of the war in Iraq, marines like Major Beck found themselves thrown into a different kind of mission: casualty notification. It is a job Major Beck never asked for and one for which he received no training. They are given no set rules, only impersonal guidelines.

Marines are trained to kill, to break down doors, but casualty notification is a mission without weapons. For Beck, the mission meant learning each dead marine’s name and nickname, touching the toys they grew up with and reading the letters they wrote home. He held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. He stitched himself into the fabric of their lives, in the simple hope that his compassion might help alleviate at least the smallest piece of their pain. Sometimes he returned home to his own family unable to keep from crying in the dark.

Recommended by Julie:
I have been telling everyone about the book I just finished, Final Salute:
A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. This is a wonderful, though
not always easy, read. It deals with the deaths of some of our servicemen
in the current war, and some of what happens at home as a result. It is,
of course, terribly sad. But there are also wonderfully uplifting moments
as people come together to honor the fallen and try to provide comfort to
those left behind. One thing I found particularly striking was the
tremendous loyalty and sense of brotherhood among those who serve in the
military. You see the terrible toll the war takes, but you also see the
comradeship and dedication of those who fight it, and those who support

Sheeler is a journalist who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing
for the story in the Rocky Mountain News that led to “Final Salute”, and
the book was a 2008 National Book Award finalist in nonfiction.


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