Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

There is an excellent feature article in the Rocky Mountain News about the Marines charged with the final duties in care of fallen comrades-in-arms and the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This article won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize and was also developed into a similarly moving and compelling book titled "Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives". The central figure of both the article and book is Maj. Steve Beck (now LtCol. Beck) but both the article and book include moving stories of a number of fallen Marines and their families. You can also hear an interview with the author and LtCol. Beck on-line via podcast from the story on NPR's Fresh Air.
What follows is a mix of extracts from the book and my commentary. All of the links rightfully lead you back to the original article.





One of the duties of the Casualty Officer is to inspect the fallen Marine to help prepare them for the final cermonies. This is an important part of the process in the custody and safe conduct of the deceased from the battlefield to the final resting place. Not every fallen Marine returns to a family, or friends, to mourn their loss. Especially in these cases, the fellow Marines of the burial details ensure that the fallen departs from the company of friends and not strangers.
Warfare often leaves the fallen Marine with a badly deformed, even unrecognizable, body. In many cases it is not possible to actually dress the body - the remains are simply wrapped in a burial shroud with a uniform laid on top of them. Prior inspection of the fallen Marine by the Casualty Officer allows them to advise the family about what they will see should they decide to view the body or have an open casket funeral.
The responsibilities of the Marine detail extend beyond transport of the fallen Marine to the burial site. An Honor Guard is not only charged literally with guarding the body but they they also ensure the needs of the Marine's family are served. At right, Katherine Cathey, wife of 2nd Lt. James Cathey, desired to remain with her husband the night before his burial so the Marines of his Honor Guard made a bed for her tucked beneath the flag drapping his casket. The Honor Guard stands continous watch over the fallen. The Honor Guard for Lt. Cathey stood watch for over 72 hours and included fellow Marines from the nearby University of Colorado.