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Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives Paperback – April 28, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


" 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

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143115456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143115458
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember reading about Woodrow Wilson's agony, as he prepared to address Congress, to ask for the US to enter WWI. All he could think of were the boys who would be killed or maimed as a result of his words. Witnesses said his face was actually contorted, perhaps a harbinger of the stroke he would have, a few years later. Before entering the chamber, he stopped in front of a mirror, and physically pushed his face back into a normal mode. In recent decades, one wonders if Presidents are all too cavalier about sending young men to die in questionable wars. One thinks of Lyndon Johnson telling the troops to "nail the coonskin to the wall" or George W. Bush in his flight suit, Top Gun, "Mission Accomplished" moment. "Final Salute" should be required reading for every President.

Through the eyes of those who have to perform the horrible task of notifying the next of kin of the death of their loved ones, the book tells the story of several soldiers, marines, and sailors who didn't make it home. One comes to know them well, and grieves for them and their families as they go through this agony. Lives interrupted, cut short. Children who will never know their fathers. Young war widows trying to survive. Parents who must bury a child. All this in the aftermath of "the knock" on the door. The pictures almost take your breath away.

This book is not about glory, not about conquest. In the end, I think it is about loss and love...the love of family members, the love of comrades in arms, the love of Country. As Memorial Day draws near, the sacrifices these people made, on both sides of "the knock" should never be forgotten. This is not an easy book, but you shouldn't miss it.
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Format: Hardcover
When I was in the military I was sent on a classified mission when I was nineteen years old. No one in the entire world that knew me, cared about me, or loved me, knew where I was going or what I was doing. I carried two fears within me during this time. The first fear was obviously of being killed. The second fear was of "THE-VISIT" that my poor, wonderful, loving, unknowing, Parents would get if I was killed. The horrendous, horrifying, ghastly, human reaction by a next of kin that has no reason to worry about a knock on the door by "CASUALTY NOTIFICATION", is too gruesome to imagine let alone put in words.


****************** "THE KNOCK" *********************
****************** MAJOR STEVE BECK *******************

This book should be read by every single American citizen. But, be warned; it is extremely emotional and you will shed tears. I am an honorably discharged Viet Nam era veteran and I consider myself to be a pretty tough guy. I have faced death and came out on the other side. When I got this book, before I actually started reading it, I went to the center portion which has twenty-four pages of color pictures that range from pictures of our fallen hero's that are depicted in this book, to their mourning families before and after "notification", to a pregnant crying wife, draping herself over the American Flag, that is draped over the coffin containing her husband, to cemeteries, to a ripped apart "last letter" home from a fallen American Hero.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fine work of quiet journalism. Mr. Sheeler has written vignettes from his personal observations of our current military burial practices and rituals, from family notification to points yet undefined, if only because some of these counselors remain in contact with some of the families. These are matters of depth and duration.

These are his accounts of the daunting job of those who bring terrible news to the "Next of Kin", and of the next of kin themselves. Such journalism is difficult to do cleanly and honestly. He does a remarkable job of not inserting himself into the chapters. He was, by the testimony of United States Marine Colonel Beck, most respectful of the fallen and of their families. Bias may be inevitable, but I find none here to cloud or distract or distort these sad events.

Each story is only as long as necessary. No editorializing. No purple embellishment. With such clarity he lays before us so that each touches us. First each alone, and then in a gradual appreciation of the both range and the commonality of them all. They are moving and enlightening.

The only time you get a sense of this author is when he bares the events where he is himself involved. After all, he really was there and in contact with the families and others. He cannot deny it by omission. But as he works through the difficulties of not being that in-your-face newsman we usually read or see, he actually further illuminates the courage of these families.

I started off by mentioning burial rituals and practices. Mr. Sheeler has a keen eye and ear. He does much to record the ceremonial side as well as the personal side. Indeed they touch profoundly in his renditions. Things sometimes vary by service. He points them out to us.
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