In Final Salute, Jim
Sheeler chronicles the painful process through which
the United States Marine Corps assists families who
have lost members on foreign battlefields. The book’s
sincerity and simplicity are integral to its strength.
Through the story of each individual life lost and a
final and tragic homecoming, readers are given a glimpse
into the meaning of sacrifice and a rare opportunity
to mourn the loss of fellow Americans sent in harm’s
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Sheeler won the 2006 Pulitzer
Prize in feature writing for the story in the Rocky
Mountain News that led to "Final Salute."
He previously authored the book “Obit” (Penguin
Group) based on his narrative obituaries of everyday
people. He has also contributed to “Best Newspaper
Writing 2006-2007” (CQ Press), and “Life
on the Death Beat,” (Marion Press). Sheeler has
won numerous national writing awards and has served
as a featured guest speaker for military and journalism
organizations. Born in Houston, Texas, he has a degree
in journalism from Colorado State University and an
a master's degree in journalism from the University
of Colorado, where he now teaches. He lives with his
wife and son in Boulder. www.jimsheeler.com.
THE BOOK (from the publisher)
curtains pull away. They come to the door.
And they know. They always know.” —
Major Steve Beck.
Since the start of the war
in Iraq, service members from all branches of the military
have found themselves thrown into a mission they never
trained for, a mission without weapons.
In Final Salute, Pulitzer-prize
winning journalist Jim Sheeler takes us into the mind
of a casualty notification officer who embarks on the
most important mission of his life, and the page-turning
journey of the families he and his comrades touch along
Excerpted from Final Salute:
A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler. Reprinted
by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin
Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) May, 2008.
There were no footprints in
The thought struck the marine
major as he stared from his car at the pristine white
powder on the sidewalk of the dark, quiet neighborhood
street in Wyoming. Soft snowflakes struck the warm windshield,
then melted and dripped.
Every second he waited was
one more tick of his wristwatch that, for the family
inside the warm house, everything was still the same.
To the major, the small wooden home looked like it could
have been dropped from his own small hometown in Oklahoma—a
house his own mother might have lived in, if she were
still alive. Now he had to walk up to someone else’s
mother, carrying the name of someone else’s son.
Less than an hour earlier,
just outside Laramie, the major and his passenger, a
gunnery sergeant, pulled the Chevy Suburban into a small
gas station and grabbed their garment bags. The two
men walked into the station dressed in street clothes.
When they emerged from the restroom, their spit-shined
black shoes clicked on the floor. Their dark blue pants,
lined with a red stripe signifying past bloodshed, fell
straight. Their dress blue jackets wrapped their necks
with a high collar that dates back to the Revolutionary
War, when marines wore leather neckstraps to protect
them from enemy swords. As they walked out of the gas
station, the major felt the eyes of the clerk.
He knows, the major
Once they arrived at the wooden
home blanketed in snow, the major looked at his watch.
When he left Denver hours earlier, it was still November
11—Veterans Day, named for the eleventh hour of
the eleventh month of the eleventh day of 1918, when
an armistice declared an end to “the war to end
In Wyoming, it was well past
midnight. Veterans Day was over.
Throughout the two-hour drive,
the major imagined what would happen at the door and
what he would say once it opened. This was his second
notification. He had easily memorized the words in the
But the major never liked
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,
an elite fighting force 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
like Major Beck found themselves thrown into a mission
they never trained for—a mission without weapons.
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.
Excerpted from Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives
by Jim Sheeler. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin
Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright
(c) May, 2008.