color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: A Book for the Ages: FINAL SALUTE

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Book for the Ages: FINAL SALUTE

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 on the door. "The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know," says Major Steve Beck.
If you need a book to read over this Independence Day weekend
-- heck put down whatever else you're reading -- and pick up a copy of Jim Sheeler's FINAL SALUTE: A Story of Unfinished Lives. If you are at all familiar with this photo and Jim Sheeler's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Final Salute" in the Rocky Mountain News, you must read this book.

While I read this book, I thought of a lot of people... I thought often of Matt at Blackfive and remembered why Matt blogs... and I thought of him and Mat Schram's family and of Noah and Tommy Byrd's family as I read... remembering vividly when my son Noah was escorting his friend Tommy Byrd home to his final rest when he said, "I know this is a real honor, but it's so hard, Mom -- the hardest thing I have ever done." and I remember writing about our conversation along his journey with Tommy,
He tells me that when they all went off to war, they promised each other that they would bring each other home. "This isn't how we thought it would happen, Ma." I detect such emotion in that statement that it is hard for me not to weep. I can not fathom the pain of such memories... or the love and loyalty that inspired such promises.

In Final Salute, Sheeler tells the stories of the fallen, of their homes, of their families, of the memorials and the memories... it is also the story of Major [now Lt. Col.] Steve Beck -- a Casualty Assistance Case Officer (CACO) and his unwaivering efforts to help heal the wounds of those left behind. This is a moving and detailed book (major tissue alert)... I was so moved by the stories... and the writing... honest... honorable... sad... proud... and the photos included are just as awe-inspiring and moving as the one above.

I believe this book should be required reading for every high school student in the U.S. It will also be greatly appreciated by anyone who has served and their families... and those who support them and understand the nature of the sacrifice... and it should be read by anyone and everyone who questions the honor or intent of those who serve in our military. I don't know if those groups will be touched by the stories told by the Fallen and their wives, their parents, and the buddies they left behind, but perhaps they might gain some appreciation for the sacrifice and maybe approach some part of their lives differently and filter some of the pap they get in college and elsewhere through the filter of knowing that some gave all -- for them. Final Salute is a perfectly fitting read for the Independence Day weekend... reminding us all that the Freedom we all enjoy is not free.

At one point, when a Marine questions why they are having a large ceremony for the families telling the stories of each soldier and Marine who had died and formally presenting the medals they had earned, asking, "Why do you have to keep reminding them" [of their loved one's death]? To which Major Beck replied, "This isn't about reminding them," he said. "This is about reminding you."

and then there was this passage -- just one of the many that made me cry...
Unlike his superior officer, [Marine Sergeant Damon Cecil] had seen the war from both sides. Before he went to Iraq, however, Damon Cecil had never spoken to the dead.

"When you're carrying them home without going over there, you have this respect, but it's a respect you don't understand," he said. "When you go over there and come back, you say, 'Man, now not only do I understand, but I want to talk to them.' I feel like I know them. I feel like I'm going to walk with him all the way to the grave."

Only a few weeks before the [Remembering the Brave] ceremony, he returned to Colorado for another funeral. When the private jet arrived, Sergeant Cecil was one of the first Marines in the belly of the plane to remove the casket.

"When I got up there, I talked to him. I said, 'Hi, brother,' and I smoothed the cardboard [that protects the casket] before taking it off," he said. "I talk to them all the time. I say, 'I'm here for you, brother. I'm here to take you home."

It's a one way conversation that continues as he posts guard near the casket.

"I come into the room, and I post right next to him. I say, 'Hey, brother, I'm going to be taking care of you for a while. I'll be here for a while and then another Marine will take over.' "

Note: I would hold off reading this book if you have someone deployed or someone about to deploy... it was hard enough for me to read this book almost 3 years after the funerals for all Noah's friends. It's a very emotional book and could be too intense for those with loved ones in harm's way... but get it and read it when they are home and safe.

PS Not heard much about this book? Well, the major media outlets "aren't interested" in this book or the story it tells. So I'm telling it... and I hope you'll help spread the word.

Finally, a great big "THANK YOU" to LTC Beck (and the other CACOs and those who assist them) for remembering and honoring the Fallen so well... and to Jim Sheeler for telling the story -- and telling it so well.

(Don't take my word for how moving and important this book and its stories are... tap the Amazon link for FINAL SALUTE and read some of the many reviews posted there...)

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At 7/03/2008 2:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I first learned of this book from CJ at A Soldier's Perspective. I ordered it from Amazon and it sat in the box in my living room for a few days until one night I couldn't sleep. I carefully opened the box and held it in my hand. I wasn't sure if I was ready to read it (Hubs has been home since Oct '05, but goes back this fall). I flipped the pages and headed off to bed with it.

Until this past month, I was Blue to Gold liason for my chapter of Blue Star Mothers (I'm the only spouse in my chapter). It was an humbling experience, to say the least. The CACOs I met were some of the most wonderful people I've ever been blessed to come into contact with. Their job isn't one I'd wish for anyone, but the dignity and grace with which they perform their tasks is amazing.

I think it's an amazing book and I love the honesty in it. I read half of it that night and don't want to pick it up again until I can devote undivided attention to finish it.

There are some things I think every single person should have to do at least once in their life in order to have a better understanding of how our world functions. Reading this book and books like it are on that list.

Great post. Thanks.

At 7/18/2008 10:34 AM , Blogger liberal army wife said...

the Washington Post had a very moving story about this book. I also saw it on Jim Lehrer's show on PBS. maybe the "major outlets" who are so busy with Brittany and Brangelina aren't following up.. but the SERIOUS ones are.


At 8/17/2008 12:44 PM , Anonymous Ray From TN said...

I got the audio book version at a Cracker Barrel restaurant for the long drive home from a dear friend's funeral. Boy was THAT a mistake. Wrong book for me to listen too after the funeral. I took it back after the first CD was done but I will most definitely be buying the book soon. What I heard was outstanding.


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