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A 'Final Salute' to Fallen Marines

Apr 30, 2008 (Fresh Air)

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"Never leave a Marine behind." The tradition began in 1775, and continues today via officers like Marine Colonel Steve Beck, whose job it is to notify the families of the loss of a loved one.

Beck's mission, called "casualty notification," is one for which he 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 new 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.

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