Discussion in 'Members Zone' started by Hostile, Jun 6, 2008.
R.I.P. thanks for serving our country
So sorry for the loss of your friend and Cowboy Zone member. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and his family.
I am a forum moderator for a Military Heroes forum on Cowboys Pride. I am enlisted in the Air Force. All military members serving in Afghanistan and Iraq will always be my heroes.
It always pains me to hear one of our own dying in combat.
I salute you Major Hagerty.
I wish I knew what to say other than Hostile and CZ you have done a phenomenal job of honoring a life, a soldier. RIP and God Bless you all
Note: Some of the following information contains graphic depictions of situations and events that relate to the aftermath of combative fatalities.
I must give credit to one of my colleagues, for sharing this information about a book called … "Last Salute" (by Jim Sheeler. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) May, 2008). While the book highlights "Bearing Witness to the Fallen and the Grieving," it also describes situations relevant to duties and responsibilities associated with being a Casualty Officer in the military (in this instance the United States Marine Corp). While I don’t talk about it often, I just happen to have worked as a Casualty Officer in the United States Air Force (during the Vietnam era).
This book purportedly gives a rare glimpse at the inner reflections of a Casualty Officer, our inner-feelings and how we dealt with meeting families that were feeling the worst they could ever feel in their entire lives.
"Despite the public’s perception, there is no group of service members whose primary task is death notification," Mr. Sheeler writes. The acronyms ("NOK" for next of kin) and instructions ("it is helpful if the NOK is seated prior to delivering the news") aren’t very helpful. Families can react violently in their grief. The sight of officers arriving in their dress uniforms is enough to set off shivers of dread in any military neighborhood.
Major Beck’s utter dedication to his job is one thing that gives "Final Salute" its strong backbone. This is not a maudlin book, despite the endless opportunities Mr. Sheeler had to make it one. Instead it adopts Major Beck’s quiet decency in his conduct and his empathy for people in dire circumstances. "Maybe that’s what hurts me the most," he says: "that because I’m standing in front of them, they’re feeling as bad as they’re ever going to feel."
Among the most difficult aspects of Major Beck’s job is to deal with its political implications. "If you don’t feel this loss in some way, I’m not so sure you’re an American, frankly," he says. "When I hand that flag to them and say ‘On behalf of a grateful nation,’ it’s supposed to mean something."
But when a chaplain once tried to silence a mother who cursed the president, Major Beck corrected the clergyman. "The best way to handle that situation," he says, "is not to tell someone what they can or cannot do in their own home."
This book enters a number of homes and follows their occupants through the grieving process. "Final Salute" is organized through chapters about these individual families. It pays particular attention to that of Lieutenant Cathey, whose pregnant wife refused to leave her husband’s coffin on the night before his burial and slept nearby on an air mattress, protected by a Marine honor guard.
It also follows the family of Army Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, who did his best to express his love to his unborn child. His widow, Melissa, was particularly forthcoming in letting Mr. Sheeler reprint her correspondence with her husband. One love letter she wrote comes back unopened, wrapped in plastic, after Private Givens’s death. It bears a stamp that reads, "Please be advised the contents may contain hazardous material."
As Mr. Sheeler chronicles the many quiet tasks involved in burying military personnel ("it’s like the names are just floating out there, waiting," says a man who carves those names into headstones), he does a fine, dignified job of conveying the range of responses to such loss.
There is the anger of Lieutenant Cathey’s mother when anyone tells her she needs closure. ("I politely tell them, ‘How about if I chop off your finger and see if it grows back?’ ") There is the American Indian ritual that celebrates Cpl. Brett Lee Lundstrom of the Marines as a fallen warrior. There is the Remembering the Brave ceremony, at which the marines who watched Lance Cpl. Kyle W. Burns die in Fallujah, Iraq, on Veterans Day 2004 keep alive the no-frills story of his heroism.
What were his last words? "I’m hit." His last deed? Ensuring that other marines survived. "Final Salute" shares Major Beck’s conviction that the Kyle Burnses of the Iraq war must be given the honor they deserve.
Excerpt: 'Final Salute'
by Jim Sheeler
Every door is different. Some are ornately hand-carved hardwood; some are hollow tin. Some are protected by elaborate security systems, some by flapping screens. The doors are all that stand between a family and the message.
For Major Steve Beck it starts with a knock, or a ring of the doorbell — a simple act, really, with the power to shatter a soul.
Marines are trained to kill. They are known for their blank stare and an allegiance to their unofficial motto, "No greater friend, no worse enemy." Since 2003, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, Marines such as Major Beck found themselves catapulted into a duty they never trained for — a mission without weapons.
As a Marine the forty year-old had already won accolades as the most accomplished marksman of his class. He later earned two master's degrees in a quest to become a leader on the battlefield. He had hoped to deploy during the Persian Gulf War but was still in training when the conflict ended. He then trained and led Marines in preparations for conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti at the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in Twenty-nine Palms, California. During the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he served as a recruiter for the war he ached to join. During the initial invasion of Iraq, he was finishing his term at the Air Command and Staff College, hoping to transfer quickly to a deploying unit. Instead, he was sent to Colorado, where he once again trained Marine reservists for war, expecting he would soon join them.
He found himself faced with an assignment that starts with a long walk to a stranger's porch and an outstretched hand sheathed in a soft white glove. It continues with a promise steeped in the history of the Corps that most people associate only with the battlefield: Never leave a Marine behind.
In combat, men have taken bullets while retrieving their comrades' bodies, knowing that the dead Marine would have done the same for them. It is a tradition instilled in boot camp, where Marines are ingrained with 230 years of history and the sacrifices of tens of thousands of lives.
For Major Beck — and thousands of men and women throughout the world tasked with notification duty — it is a promise that holds long after the dead return home.
Ask a Marine. Even the "grunts" on the front lines say they would rather be in the danger zone in Iraq than having to stand on that porch. From the beginning, Major Beck decided, if he was going to have to do it, he would do it his way, the way he would want it done if he were the one in the casket.
Over the next two years and through several notifications, Beck made a point of learning each dead Marine's name and nickname. He touched the toys they grew up with and read the letters they wrote home. He held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. Sometimes he returned home to his own family and cried in the dark.
When he first donned the Marine uniform, Steve Beck had never heard the term casualty assistance calls officer. He certainly never expected to serve as one.
As it turned out, it would become the most important mission of his life.
As Veterans Day slid into another blank date on the calendar, the Marines drove through the snowy streets of the Laramie neighborhood. The house found them first, beckoning with the brightest porch lights and biggest address numbers on the block. Inside the SUV, the major played out scenarios with his gunnery sergeant as if they were headed into battle. What if the parents aren't home? What if they become aggressive? What if they break down? What if, what if, what if?
The major pulled to the curb and cut his headlights. He looked at the gunnery sergeant. Then the two men climbed out of the truck, walked into the untouched powder, and heard the soft snow crunch.
From then on, every step would leave footprints.
In the basement of their home in Laramie, Kyle Burns's parents didn't hear the doorbell. The couple had spent most of the snowy night trying to hook up a new television. It was nearly 1:00 A.M. when the dog leapt into a barking frenzy. Kyle's mother climbed the stairs from the basement, looked out the window and saw the two Marines on the frozen porch.
Go away! she thought. Get the heck (edited) away from here! Then she started screaming.
While each door is different, the scenes inside are almost always the same. "The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know," Major Beck said. "You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor. It's not the blood as much as their soul. Something sinks. I've never seen that except when someone dies. And I've seen a lot of death.
"They're falling — either literally or figuratively — and you have to catch them. In this business, I can't save his life. All I can do is catch the family while they're falling."
I wanted to share this with you and some of the Veterans on the Zone …