"Never leave a Marine behind." The tradition began in 1775 and continues today via officers like Col. Steve Beck, whose job it is to notify military families about the loss of a loved one.
Beck's mission, called "casualty notification," is one that's dramatized in the acclaimed new film The Messenger, starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.
It's also one for which Beck received no training. It begins with a knock at the door, and continues through the funeral and beyond. It involves standing watch over the caskets of the fallen, comforting those left behind, and at times choking down his own tears.
Journalist Jim Sheeler followed Beck for a year, writing about the experience in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News series. Sheeler's book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives is a continuation of the series. Sheeler and Beck join Fresh Air host Terry Gross for a conversation about a duty that's both an honor and a burden.
This interview was originally broadcast April 30, 2008.