Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

4.6 27
by Jim Sheeler

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"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 at the door. "The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know," says Major Steve Beck." "Since the start of the war in Iraq, Marines like Major Beck have found themselves thrown into a different kind of…  See more details below


"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 at the door. "The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know," says Major Steve Beck." "Since the start of the war in Iraq, Marines like Major Beck have found themselves thrown into a different kind of mission: casualty notification. It is a job Major Beck never asked for and one for which he received no training. He was given no set rules, only impersonal guidelines." "Marines are trained to kill, to break down doors, but casualty notification is a mission without weapons. For Major Beck, the mission meant learning each dead Marine's name and nickname, touching the toys he grew up with, and reading the letters he wrote home. Beck has held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. He stitched himself into the fabric of their lives, in the simple hope that his compassion might help alleviate at least the smallest piece of their pain. Sometimes he returned home to his own family unable to keep from crying in the dark." In Final Salute, journalist Jim Sheeler weaves together the stories of the fallen and of the broken homes they have left behind. It is also the story of Major Steve Beck and his unflagging efforts to help heal the wounds of those left grieving. Above all, it is a moving tribute to our troops, putting faces to the mostly anonymous names of our courageous heroes and to the brave families who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Since Mr. Sheeler followed the individual stories of several military men and their families (no dead female soldiers are included in the book), Final Salute seemingly qualifies as an extended human-interest story. To some extent that's what it is, if human interest includes the pain and frustration of surviving the death of a loved one (or breadwinner) in battle. But the book is given tighter focus by the man whom Mr. Sheeler treats as a central figure: Maj. Steve Beck, a marine who specializes in helping the bereaved…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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheeler (Obit: Inspirational Stories of People Who Led Extraordinary Lives) pays eloquent tribute to the soldiers who have died in Iraq and their devastated families. The author spent two years shadowing Maj. Steve Beck, a marine in charge of casualty notification, as he delivered the news of battlefield death to families. Sheeler puts readers in Beck's shoes as he walks up to houses, delivers the knock on the door so dreaded by military families and tries to comfort distraught spouses and parents. Sheeler provides intimate sketches of the fallen soldiers-like Marine Staff Sgt. Sam Holder, who died while drawing enemy fire away from an injured comrade-and follows up as grieving families try to put their lives back together. The children left behind are often the most tragic figures: the young son of army PFC Jesse Givens asks if he can "be a little boy again" when he goes to heaven so that he can play with his dad. Dedicated to "everyone who opened the door," Sheeler's book is a devastating account of the sacrifices military families make and should be required reading for all Americans. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer-winning journalist looks at the impact of war deaths on the home front. Rocky Mountain News reporter Sheeler (Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives, 2007) profiles service members whose duty includes casualty notification to the soldiers' families, focusing primarily on Marine Major Steve Beck. The author followed Beck and several other "casualty assistant calls officers" as they performed the unwelcome duty of knocking on a stranger's door to convey the worst news any parent or spouse could hear; his text reveals the toll this takes on those who deliver the news as well as those who receive it. The Marines' slogan, "Never leave a brother behind," extends to this last duty and continues as long as the family needs any comfort and care the Corps can supply. Sheeler also gives the reader a look at other service members who routinely deal with the families their fallen comrades have left behind, such as Marine Sgt. Andy Alonzo, who supervises burials at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. On the flight that carried Navy Corpsman John Dragneff to Denver with the casket of his best friend, the author talked to fellow passengers; their comments expressed mixed feelings about the war but unqualified support for the soldiers. The bereaved are the most moving figures here: the pregnant widows suddenly deprived of the family breadwinner, the mothers who have lost their only sons. Sheeler often looks back to depict the casualties' lives before they enlisted: accomplishments, relationships with wives and friends, dreams for the future. An epilogue follows several families after the initial shock of bereavement, bringing the story up to date, if not to aconclusion. Sobering, touching stories told with deep respect. Agent: Simon Lipskar/Writers House
From the Publisher
" One of the great underreported stories of the Iraq war."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times

" A must-read account."
-The Wall Street Journal

" A powerful counterpoint to the impersonal statistics and verbal camouflage of military euphemisms that sanitize the true horror of war and dehumanize those who serve."
-The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.18(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
hcsnola More than 1 year ago
I met Jim Sheeler at an event at the University of Colorado. He brought one of the marines with him as a guest to tell the stories behind fallen soldiers. This book has inspired me greatly. It makes you grateful for what you have because for these guys, they are living it a day at a time overseas. I know several men in the marines right now overseas stationed in Iraq. Everyday I keep telling myself that they will come home; hopefully they will but one of them was killed in action not too long ago. I have come to support the men and women in the military no matter who the president is and no matter who I am sitting next to. It is an honor to be friends with these guys. They are like brothers to me when they are on US soil; they watch over me. To read Sheeler's book brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. His writing style puts you in the room as the marine informs the family of the death of their son or husband, daughter or wife. I highly recommend this book to anyone whether you are a military buff or just looking for a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book should be in every classroom, home, is that great.
I read alot, and I can't remember the last time a book has gripped me on every emotional level. If you have someone fighting for this country or not, if you have mixed emotions about the war, this book details the lives of those families that have lost their loved ones protecting this country, the life of the soldier, the gut wrenching pain of their private hell when they are informed of their loss. Whatever your view is, this book will change not only your mind, but your life. These families become your family. Their pain becomes your pain. Jim Sheeler has beautifully written this tribute to all involved and sheds light on what happens after our fallen heroes have come home to their final rest. The man should be given a Pulitzer for this work. I cried. I grieved. I have immense pride for these soldiers, their families, the courage to knock on the would take wide shoulders to bear this responsibility. The Final Salute is not only for these families of the book, but for all the servicemen & servicewomen who have given their lives to protect America & their families. I stop now when the news speaks of our fallen heroes, I know now what will come next for them. I became conditioned, as most of us have after these many years of war. Not anymore. I read this book and felt shame for my selfish thinking of my daily gripes. I want you to get this book if you are considering it, you will not be sorry. Thank you Jim Sheeler & the families for bringing these beautiful lives full circle in such an honorable way. May God Bless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an Iraq War veteran who lost a couple friends, including my best friend who I went through basic training with, I strongly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read this book because my family has experienced a soldier's death while he was on active duty. I didn't think it would be so hard to read...and I stopped reading it before going to bed because the images I got from reading it were so vivid making it hard to fall asleep. In spite of that, I was able to get through it a few pages at a time. I cried each time I read it, though. I bought it mainly to understand what the Notification Officers go through as they inform families of a death and how they cope with the activities of a family as they lay their loved one to rest. What the Notification Officers go through is a form of love, bravery and paying homage to a fallen soldier all rolled into one. As I read the book I realized these officers are a unique type of hero who bring honor to the military in ways no one else possibly can. I recommend this book to anyone, especially those who think military people have no sensitivity. The honor and loyalty shown to the fallen soldier and their families by each branch of the military, as evidenced in this book, is beyond measure. I am so grateful to the families who allowed us to share the nightmare of losing their soldier family member, experience their grief,and the sadness of their days in order to paint this unforgettable portrait of the duties, feelings and actions of the Notification Officers and all ranks of the military as they honor and pay respects to the sacrifice of the soldiers who died for our freedom.
Swiderek More than 1 year ago
I echo all the other reviews. This book is one of the most powerful and touching books, anyone can read. It stays with you for a long time, as you really feel for the families. We all say, "We want to be a fly on the wall to know what went on inside somewhere". This book, truly, allows you to do that, as you accompany the men who have the sad task to make sure these families are comforted. If any American ever doubted their country and felt things are going wrong, than they have to read this. These young American, who made the "Ultimate Sacrifice" so you and I could go into a bookstore, died so you and I could buy a book, a cup of coffee, and live our life in freedom while they couldn't. And their famiies also paid the Ultimate Sacrifice by not having them to come back to. Truly, these stories had to be told. They are exceptional. I feel for the families. I feel for these men. No matter what religion one belongs to, one has to say a prayer for these men, their loved ones, and those that have given all before and after. These men died for us. Thank you for defending our country and my family. Words are not enough. God rest their souls.
Hawkdream More than 1 year ago
A gift from a veteran USMC Honor Guard. Kept me reading, made me much more aware of how the families and the officers who must deliver the sad news feel. It has given me a new respect and admiration for casualty officers, as well as made my heart more tender.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book yesterday, and completed it today. As an avid military follower, and part of a military family, I knew some of the stories featured. This book, however, brought to light the lives of not just the Soldier, Marines, and Corpsman, but their families. Jim Sheeler did an amazing job touching all aspects. At the same time, he has touched the hearts of everyone who picks this book up. With every turn of the page, you feel your heart tear, tears well in your eyes, and you want to reach out to the family. Major Beck is an astounding person, and exemplifies what it means to be a Marine. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must say I just got the book today and I am only 77 pages into it. But so far I have had tears in my eyes for the biggest part of it. It's so far a wonderful book that takes you into the lives of those who lost someone they loved. Jim Sheeler really wrote a wonderful book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not done with this, but I can say that the author has chosen a wonderful, if sad topic for a book about the true cost of freedom. The stories all touched me, especially the one about the Navy Corpman, because he seemed so full of life and had had a lot to give to people. Just reading what I have made wish I could reach through and give the families a hug, and the main focus, Maj Beck seems to be a wonderfully compassionate person for those who lost someone. Should be read on July fourth, to understand what independence and democracy costs.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was difficult to read and even more difficult to put down. It is so heartwarming to know the military provides compassion and respect in so many ways we are unaware of, for the families and friends of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. It reminds us to keep all of them in our prayers daily.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A kit padded in...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smiled. "Thanks."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enters. "May i join?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You could be deputy at the midnight claws starting res 17
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sits alone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sniffed the kit. Then Stripe slowly grabbed him/her by the scruff and put the kit in her den. (Leaders den)
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