It was supposed to be a bright, sunshiny day. The kind that was filled with summertime potential, pools, laughter and hamburgers on the grill. It was Ohio.....rainy, cold, dreary and depressing. It was how my Fourth of July was destined to be. So, we scraped the pool plans, grilled (but ate indoors) and planted ourselves in the front room with a good book! Mine was an extraordinary book - "Final Salute - A Story of Unfinished Lives" by Jim Sheeler. It's no wonder he received a Pulitzer!
Turns out it was a moving and emotional way to spend Independence Day....
When I started reading the book, I had no idea what it would be like. Jim Sheeler writes about the way the military honors it's fallen heroes, it's military families and it's tradition of healing and grief. He writes about the Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (CACO). The people we all hope we never meet, never see at our door - or the door of any of our friends and neighbors. He writes of their passion for a job they have so much pain in executing. It is a meaningful and silent testimony to the heartache of that job and the honor and tradition attached to it.
We've all heard of communication blackouts in war zones. It seems odd in this day and age of instant communication to continue this time honored tradition of having military members stand at the door and tell family members of the death of their loved one face to face. But isn't it just like the military to show so much respect for a fallen hero, the family and their loss? We are part of a community that honors those who have died, who have given the ultimate sacrifice. A community that also honors those family members who are left to bear the grief of this sacrifice. Prior to reading this book, I never gave much thought to who performs this job, those who bear the horrible news of another service members' death. What a painful yet honorable job. I have come to deeply appreciate their sensitivity and experiences.
Sunday, George Will (a sydicated columnist) wrote a review of the book in his column. He said the book "proves that the phrase 'literary journalism" is not an oxymoron". The book reveals many snapshots of how America responds to the death of a service member. For instance, the reaction of a plane of people when the body of a fallen service member was taken from the plane to be home with his family. Sometimes....sometimes there is a tremendous voice in the silence of people's response. Even though we, the military family, represent less than 2% of the total population - sometimes our pain, courage and sacrifice is too much for even the masses to ignore. Sheeler writes of this experience - and does so well.
It was a wonderful way to spend the 4th of July. Reviewing and realizing what we, as a military community, do to honor the life and sacrifice of a military member and how we strive to give comfort and solace to their family members who now have also given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I don't know if it's a job I could bring myself to fulfill, but it gave me a newfound respect for those who honor their comrades in arms enough to bring news of their death to their loved ones.
This is a book that I highly recommend to everyone - not just those connected with the military.