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 a conclusion.
Sobering, touching stories told with deep respect.