Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives
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Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

4.39 of 5 stars 4.39  ·  rating details  ·  536 ratings  ·  136 reviews
They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear. Since the start of the war in Iraq, Marines like Major Steve Beck found themselves charged with a mission they never asked for and one for which there can be no training: casualty notification. In "Final Salute," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Sheeler weaves...more
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Published May 1st 2008 by Penguin Books (first published 2008)
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Megan Tyson
There are no words to describe how I felt reading this book. I read it over two days traveling home to RI for a visit...I was crying at home, in the airport and on the plane. I had read Jim Sheeler's article and seen the pictures that accompanied it and I knew I had to read this book. Not just about Marines who had given their lives, but service members from other branches as well. We see everything from the knock on the door of a young pregnant wife, to how the casualty assistance officer feels...more
I grew up in a small town in southern New Hampshire (Merrimack) and looking back on it now, a rather politically conservative town. Most of those political ideals were held in the hearts of the adults of the community and subsequently passed down on to their children. Though my parents were (are) fairly liberal in their views, my father being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Upon graduating high school, several of my good friends decided that the military was the right decision f...more
This book pretty much broke my heart.

Sheeler spent a lot of time with a Marine Corps casualty assistance officer, whose job it was to notify the families of soldiers who died in combat, and then followed up with those families (just as the CAO did) in the months ahead as the bodies came home for burial, and parents, spouses, and children tried to carry on with their lives. The book does not play politics where the war in Iraq is concerned, but it is a powerful reminder for every American of the...more
This was one of those books that makes me think that we don't just choose books, but they choose us. I read the cover at the BX, and almost got all choked up right in the aisle. This book is about the deaths of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and the echoes of that pain through the lives of their families. I believe death is the mirror that shows us who we are most faithfully, and this book reaffirmed that. I don't think I have ever read a book that made me cry this much. The writing was absolu...more
First, let me start by saying that I could not read more than one chapter on the train home from work. After a few pages, the tears would start falling and I would have to put the book away.

There was one page that I reread a few times since it really made me think...

"....The unintended consequence is a further detachment of the populace not seeing their fallen service member come home, he said. I think that in many ways the people in this country are detached from the war - financially detached...more
In Final Salute, the author writes about a topic so sensitive and emotionally upsetting that you'll need a box of tissue to read this book. The topic is casualty notification in which a military officer has to knock on the door of a family whose loved one has died in the war. The author has interviewed both Major Beck (whose job is casualty notification) and the families who had to answer his knock on the door. They talk about how their lives have become affected by the news they received and I'...more
Heartbreaking and powerful and definitely worth the read. The book captures the devastating cost of going to war. It removes the politics of war and exposes the raw emotions experienced by the military families of fallen soldiers. It's a shame how little the American public recognizes the sacrifices our soldiers and their families make. After reading this book, I am now more consciously aware of the sacrifices and have a deeper appreciation for what the servicemen/women do.
Lauren Monsey Nagel
If you have not heard of the book, you might recall hearing about the author. His name is Jim Sheeler, the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. When I picked up this book I immediately recognized it was the same Major Steve Beck that I had read about a few years ago, in my Sunday paper. Major Beck, a causality assistance calls officer in the US Marine Corp, had organized “Remembering The Brave” ceremony for the families in honor of their fallen loved one.
When you first pick thi...more
Brenda Clough
This review originally appeared in the International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Magazine.

Interviewed on a TV talk show last year, First Lady Laura Bush said that “no one suffers more” over Iraq that she and her husband do. Someone should send her FINAL SALUTE: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jim Sheeler. The stupendous suffering of those who have lost loved ones in Iraq is overwhelming, to the point where this is a hard book to read. No matter what your politi...more
Heartbreaking book about the reality of our troops not coming home, Casualty Notification and the aftermath for the soldiers families and friends. Marine Staff Sergeant Kevin Thomas was quoted in the book to say "You always here all these statements like "Freedom isn't free." You hear the President talking about all these people making sacrifices. But you never really know until you carry one of them in the casket. When you feel their body weight. When you feel them, That's when you know. That's...more
Ramsey Hootman
I'm not even sure how to review this book. It was hard to read. Really hard. I could only go a few pages at a time before I had to put it down so I could keep myself from crying. I probably could have stomached it before I had children, but as a mother I cannot read about soldiers dying without imagining my own boys coming home in boxes.

Worthwhile? God, yes. In fact I think anyone considering serving should have to read this before signing up. I think anyone who votes should probably read this b...more
Bethann Guevara
My youngest brother is a US Marine, and I read this book earlier this year, just before I learned he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan. The author follows a Marine officer whose job it is to make that horrible, dreaded knock on the door to notify a family of their Marine's death; he chronicles the officer's involvement in that family's life, as well as paying tribute to their fallen Marine. It's very well done; touching without sounding hollow in the least. I read it with tears running dow...more
At times this book can leave you heartbroken and a bit emotionally drained, but it is definitely worth the read. Throughout the war, I never even imagined the soldiers who have to notify families of their loved ones death. This book follows an upstanding marine on notification duty and at least four families of fallen soldiers. I appreciated reading about the respect given to fallen soldiers as they are escorted home to their final resting place. This book allowed me to see a different side to t...more
Garry Wilmore
Regardless of how one feels about the war in Iraq, this book makes compelling reading and prompts reflection on the human cost of the conflict, at least from the American perspective. Simply yet movingly written, this is a collection of stories about the military officers charged with the unenviable task of notifying the next-of-kin when a service member is killed. I bought it in the hardbound edition, could hardly put it down, will probably reread it at some point, and have recommended it to my...more
Carol Schultz
A must read by anyone who wants to get a close look at the tragedy within the families, friends, and soldiers of our fallen soldiers in this wasteful war this country is in.
Jaime Wolfley
This book is amazing! As one reviewer wrote: "This is quite possibly the most poignant book I've read." You will need a box of tissue with you but it is very much worth the tears that you will shed. It mostly follows a Marine Corps Major as he informs the loved ones of a fallen Marine. It is such a moving book. To our knowledge there has never been another book written that shows what happens beyond the initial knock on the door. Both Greg & I read it and weve extremely moved by it. As for t...more
Listening to it as an audio book. Have to pack tissues in the car. Very moving.

Extremely moving. And a respectful tribute to the marines/soldiers who have fallen in Iraq & Afghanistan, and the families they leave behind (as represented by several families profiled in the book).

The booktells the story of how military families are informed of their loved ones death by the armed services. It mainly follows Major Beck, a Marine Corps Casualty Assistance Officer, who truly respects and cares for...more
A really interesting and touching book about a few of the families affected by the conflict in Iraq, specifically the deaths of loved ones serving in the military. Full disclosure: I got pretty misty-eyed quite a few times while reading this.

Jim Sheeler, the author, writes for the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado and spent several years following a few families after they received word that their son/husband/brother died in Iraq. Sheeler also profiles a specific "casualty notification officer," t...more
Final Salute was a very emotional read of soldiers from Colorado who had died in action in Iraq whose remains were brought home with military escorts to be buried and remembered. The author, Jim Sheeler, a reporter with Denver's Rocky Mountain News, won a Pulitzer prize in Feature Writing for this book, and his sincerity and focus in following officers assigned to tell the news to families, escort the body through transit, funeral, and burial was telling. He then followed certain families up to...more
You never know what someone is going through until you walk a mile in their moccasins. In Final Salute, Jim Sheeler provides the moccasins for us- moccasins of families that have lost loved ones. At first, the book was very moving. Sheeler’s eye for detail is impeccable, his intuition for effective dialogue faultless, and his ability to keep his opinions to himself acclaimed. If he had kept butting in throughout the story, pointing out how he thought that what the family was going through was ho...more
A majority Final Salute follows Marine Corps Major Steve Beck as he knocks on doors to notify families that their sons/daughters/husbands/wives have died in Iraq. His job is technically called "casualty notification", but Major Beck is an incredibly selfless and inspirational figure who stays in contact with the families for years and assures their Marines are treated with respect and honor at all times. The book really is a story of unfinished lives, as the subtitle suggests. We get to know, q...more
This is a book that will make you cry. My husband started to read it and had to stop. I figured it was the least I could do to finish it, considering what the families are going through, but never really considered not finishing it, though it took me longer than usual since I had to stop often.

It is an inspiring book also. You learn how they deal with the tragedy of losing a loved one. Most of all you learn how the government is woefully lacking in training the notifiers, and in helping the fam...more
Picked up this audio @ the library since I was awaiting my next "hold" to come in...and I lucked out! It was very good!
True stories told fr. a Marine who has the job "casualty assistance officer", notifying the families of fallen service men/women, and being their contact and assisting them in any way possible as long as they wish/need. The stories of 4-5 service men are followed, from notifying their families, to their funerals and/or prep thereof, to their families' voices on who their family...more
"The Final Salute" is the first of what will be of several books I will read on the war in Iraq. It is my personal desire to better understand the War and the devastating toll it has had on our soldiers and their families. This desire has grown as I have watched a 'silence' in the nation ( and myself) over the years since the start of the war. Where have the yellow ribbons gone? Are we so mindful to post pictures or send letters/ supplies? Yet our brave soldiers carry on. The children I once wat...more
Jennifer B
Just started this last night. I got 20 pages and the tears were literally rolling down my face. I was curious about this book after reading a review in the NYTimes, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to finish it because it was just so hard to read. I'm trying to be respectful of the sacrifices of the troops and families fighting in this conflict, but it rough to read.

Update: Finished reading last night. Very impactful stories about the families that are left behind after fathers, husbands...more
Really there are no words to describe how great this book is, but I'm going to try. This is quite possibly the most poignant book I've read. This book tells the story of a Marine Officer, Major Beck, whose job it is to tell family members that their son/daughter/husband/wife was killed in Iraq. Beck does this job with such diginity and honor, it's like he personally knew each soldier that was killed and the bond he makes with the surviving family is so touching. This book really hit me with the...more
Oh this book........

read it for the touching heart wrenching stories, for the up close and personal insights into the unfinished lives of our men and women in the service and those that love them.

don't read it if your heart is tender and subject to hurting for others. It requires boxes of kleenex.

This book is the untold story of what happens behind the scences when a fallen soldier is returned to their loved ones...from the physical return of the body to the aftermath in the lives of those left...more
I would give it 4 1/2 stars for the writing quality, which is inconsistent. Sometimes, it flows smoothly, and throws curves at you, at other times it gets a bit to choppy (the author hops among several families) and you lose the people you are learning about.
That said, it is a wonderful book that will have you tearing up. The vignettes are short enough that you can read the book in spurts, if you wish. He does a wonderful job of capturing the emotion for all parties involved, including parents,...more
This is a very difficult book to read, the pain of the families and the lives cut short is very real. It was written in the only way possible really... with complete detachment from judgement or opinion.

The Author does a great job of showing the pain and hardship that the survivors go through, along with the brotherhood of the marines. He does all of this without passing judgement or coming down on one side of the war itself.

I would recommend this as everyone should see this clearly into the pa...more
i can't tell you the last time i read a book in two days. While this book doesn't seem like something you can't put do, it completely is. There are so many great, powerful, haunting moments talked about, some many families you want to give hugs to, so many graves you want to put flowers on. It gives me so much more respect for the military tradtion and way of life. The most heartbreaking and powerful stories to me were those of friends transporting the bodies back home, or the marnies standing g...more
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