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Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Livesby Jim Sheeler
Synopses & Reviews
Based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning story, Jim Sheele‛s unprecedented look at the way our country honors its dead; Final Salute Is a stunning tribute to the brave troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the families who continue to mourn them
They 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 marin‛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.
In Final Salute, Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Jim Sheeler weaves together the stories of the fallen and of the broken homes they have left behind. It is also the story of Major Steve Beck and his unflagging efforts to help heal the wounds of those left grieving. Above all, it is a moving tribute to our troops, putting faces to the mostly anonymous names of our courageous heroes, and to the brave families who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Final Salute is the achingly beautiful, devastatingly honest story of the true toll of war. After the knock on the door, the story has only begun.
War's brutality is the secret that civilized societies keep from themselves. Along with the raw, blood-and-guts physical carnage of battle, what often gets minimized is the emotional devastation suffered by military families, whose loved ones have been torn violently from this world. Home-front anguish is especially hard to capture; while the ferocity of combat can be conveyed in... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) dramatic images of screaming grunts kneeling over wounded buddies, the grief experienced by those back in the States tends to be more private and subtle. It is recorded in still photographs of freshly cut flowers under white headstones or the reaction of a mother who comes home to find Marine Corps officers in their dress blues waiting for her. "Please don't let it be," she pleads. "Please tell me it's not Jimmy. Please tell me it's not my son." James "Jimmy" Cathey was killed in Iraq on Aug. 21, 2005, leaving behind a wife, Katherine, who was pregnant with their first child. He is one of five young servicemen profiled by Jim Sheeler in "Final Salute," which evolved out of a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story he wrote for the Rocky Mountain News in 2005. Like Cathey, Christopher "Doc" Anderson was 24 years old when he was killed in Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006. Brett Lee Lundstrom, a Lakota Sioux Indian killed on Jan. 7, 2006, was 22. Kyle Burns, who died on Veterans Day 2004, is the youngest of the five. He was only 20. The oldest, Jesse Givens, was killed on May 1, 2003, the day President Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech. If the date isn't ironic enough, Givens died when his tank plunged into the Euphrates River. "Pfc. Jesse A. Givens," Sheeler writes, "drowned in the desert." But this book isn't about how these men died. "Final Salute" is about what happens next — the knock on the door, the transfer of the body, the public ceremonies and the private attempts to mourn, cope and remember. Mostly, it concerns the traumatized souls left behind who represent the invisible casualties of every war. Featured prominently as well are the notification officers responsible for that first, excruciating visit to the next of kin. These military personnel, who are given little training, discover that the very sight of their government vehicle can prompt screams and outright hostility. In the most extreme case to date, a father who had just been informed by Marine officers that his son had been killed in Iraq set the Marines' van on fire — with himself inside. Sheeler spotlights Maj. Steve Beck, who notified the relatives of Burns and Cathey. Beck's compassion seems limitless. More than a shoulder to cry on, though he is that too, Beck is there to assist the families with everything from funeral arrangements to bureaucratic red tape. One senses there is nothing he wouldn't do to ameliorate their grief. While Sheeler clearly has enormous respect for the families and the notification officers, "Final Salute" is not hagiography. In one of the book's most painful and infuriating scenes, Sheeler describes how an officer came to the door of Melissa Givens, asked for a "Mrs. Gibbons," read perfunctorily from a written text and then argued with her about whether or not her husband was really dead. Ultimately, Sheeler pays the deceased troops and their families the great tribute of never reducing them to one-dimensional characters. In succinct, vivid prose, complemented by photographs that illuminate the lives of the young men and their families, he beautifully captures their individuality and unique personalities. At Kyle Burns' funeral, his mother, Jo, was introduced to Terry Cooper, whose son Thomas had also been killed in Iraq. After briefly talking about their boys, Cooper concluded that both were probably hell-raisers growing up: "'Was your son as big a little (expletive) as mine?' she asked. "'Yes!' Jo Burns said, exploding with laughter and tears. 'Oh, yes!'" All of these moments that Sheeler has so meticulously gathered act as a powerful counterpoint to the impersonal statistics and verbal camouflage of military euphemisms that sanitize the true horror of war and dehumanize those who serve. Sheeler reminds us that every one of them is distinct, imperfect and real. Andrew Carroll is the editor of "Operation Homecoming," which inspired the 2008 Oscar-nominated film of the same name. Reviewed by Andrew Carroll, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear. Since the start of the war in Iraq, Marines like Major Steve Beck found themselves charged with a mission they never asked for and one for which there can be no training: casualty notification. In Final Salute, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Sheeler weaves together the stories of the fallen, the broken homes they have left behind, and one man's effort to help heal the wounds of those left grieving. But it is not a book about war, politics, or liberal vs. conservative. Achingly beautiful and honest, it is a book that every American-every human-can embrace.
Unabridged CDs ? 5 CDs, 6 hours
Based on his Pulitzer Prize?winning story, Jim Sheeler?s unprecedented look at the way our country honors its dead; Final Salute is a stunning tribute to the brave troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the families who continue to mourn them.
About the Author
Jim Sheeler has specialized in covering the impact of the war at home for the Rocky Mountain News since the first Colorado casualty of the war in Iraq. He won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his story“Final Salut” and has won numerous other local and national writing awards. Born in Houston, Texas, Sheeler graduated with a degree in journalism from Colorado State University in 1990 and earned a maste‛s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado in 2007. His book of collected obituaries, Obit: Inspirational Stories of Everyday People Who Led Extraordinary Lives, was published in June 2007.
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