Photos

 

Todd Heisler's "Final Salute"

While a staff photographer at the Rocky Mountain News, Heisler (now at The New York Times) spent a year documenting the work of Major Steve Beck and the Marine Honor Guard who handle family notifications and the funerals of Marines killed during the Iraq War. At a time when the Pentagon barred photographers from covering the return of military caskets to Dover Air Force Base, Heisler’s “Final Salute” provided a rare and intimate look at the dignity of military funeral rites.

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    The night before the burial of her husband’s body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her, tucking in the sheets below the flag. Before she fell asleep, she opened her laptop computer and played songs that reminded her of “Cat,” and one of the Marines asked if she wanted them to continue standing watch as she slept. “I think it would be kind of nice if you kept doing it,” she said. “I think that’s what he would have wanted.”
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    Captain Chris Sutherland, left, Sergeant Major Jeff Study, Staff Sergeant Clifford Grimes and Gunnery Sergeant Todd Martin prepare to deliver posthumous medals to the families of fallen Marines.
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    The day before the funeral of their friend, 2nd Lt. Jon Mueller, left and 1st Lt. Matthew Baumann practiced for hours folding a flag, making sure there would be no errors the next day. “That will be the last time his flag is folded, ” Said Maj. Steve Beck, as he instructed them. “It has to be perfect.”
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    Jo Burns clings to Corporal Dustin Barker, 22, during the “Remembering the Brave” ceremony honoring the actions of fallen Marines. Corporal Barker was with Jo Burns’ son, Lance Corporal Kyle Burns, when he was killed in action in Fallujah on November 11, 2004.
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    Inside the mortuary, Katherine Cathey draped herself over her husband’s casket before putting personal items in it. Flowers from their wedding, a bottle of Jim’s favorite perfume and an ultrasound of their son were some of the things Katherine placed next to 2nd Lt. James Cathey’s remains.