Fallen but not forgotten: the Final Salute

While many people are oblivious to the sacrifices (and volumes of sacrifices) men and women in the armed forces make on a daily basis, even more people neglect to think of the impacts on their families. Jim Sheeler’s “Final Salute” opened my eyes to the lives of those in the military and their families. Sheeler included interesting insights into the lives of military families, as well as those who have the unfortunate task of bearing the worst message that any family member could hear: that a son/daughter/husband/wife has passed away.

Sheeler’s article chronicles the tragic duties of Major Steve Beck, a casualty assistance calls officer in the Marines. His job is to inform families of military casualties–but contrary to what I had previously assumed, the job doesn’t end there. “Final Salute” follows Beck from the initial dreaded knock on the front door through the burial of one of his fallen comrades. Instead of merely delivering the news and disappearing, Beck oversaw funeral arrangements and coordinated watch over the remains of one Marine’s body, while simultaneously offering his support to the parents and pregnant widow of the fallen soldier.

The attention to detail Sheeler uses in the article has a chilling effect, and allows readers to become fully enveloped in the melancholy state in which Beck spends much of his life. Yet through Sheeler’s flowing and effective word choice, it is clear that Beck might not love his job per se, he respects the importance of it and wouldn’t write off its significance.

After reading such a well-written heartbreaking and touching story, there is no question why Sheeler won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. “Final Salute” is an incredible read, albeit a bit depressing. But it opens eyes to different realities of war in a way that no other article I’ve read has done before.

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