Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

by Jim Sheeler

Hardcover, 2008

Call number

956.70 S



Penguin Press HC, The (2008), Edition: 1, 288 pages


Based on Sheeler's Pulitzer Prize-winning story, "Final Salute" is a stunning tribute to the brave troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the families who continue to mourn them.--From publisher description.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sweeks1980
Jim Sheeler's Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives provides an intimate, powerful, and often harrowing glimpse into the lives of people whose family members have died in the Iraq War. The book is a continuation and expansion of Sheeler's articles for the Rocky Mountain News, including his Pulitzer Prize winning "Final Salute," which he did in conjunction with photographer Todd Heisler. By expanding his initial articles, Sheeler gives us the opportunity to reflect on a situation that too many Americans turn a blind eye to, namely the consequences of war on those left behind.

Sheeler's book is remarkable in several respects. Despite the heartbreaking nature of the work, Final Salute is engrossing and very readable. More importantly, it is very accessible for those who have not had the situation of losing a loved one to war. Rather than emphasizing the uniqueness of these military families, Final Salute invites readers to gain a greater understanding of the pain of uncertainty and the heartbreak that comes with knowing about a loved one's death.

In order to do this, Sheeler discusses several soldiers who died in Iraq and the repercussions their deaths have had on their families. Rather than dedicating a section of the book to a single family, Sheeler makes the seemingly risky decision to divide his work into four parts, including "The Knock," "Reverberations," and "After the War, Stories." I say that this is seemingly risky because in a a less-talented writer's hands, this choice could make the book very difficult to follow. However, Sheeler successfully manages to interweave the different stories into a cohesive narrative. In some situations, the stories and the families literally connect; for instance, Sheeler shows how Kyle Burns's and Sam Holder's families form a bond with each other. Other connections remain figurative but are still powerful.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Final Salute is that it manages to navigate the political tightrope. This book is apolitical and does not espouse any particular political agenda. What makes this remarkable is that Sheeler does not shy away from documenting his subjects' opinions regarding President Bush, the military, or the war in Iraq. By doing this, Sheeler offers an honest look into the thoughts of these families who have made a considerable sacrifice.

In a sense, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives comes at a perfect time. With the slumping housing market, rising gas prices, and uncertain economy, the war in Iraq is not at the forefront of the American consciousness. Sheeler's work reminds us that, despite the economic troubles at home, we must never forget those who serve in the military and those they leave behind. The book ends with an epilogue that allows us to see what has happened with the families he has discussed. Fittingly, these pages provide a sense of continuation but not a sense of closure, for as Lieutenant Colonel Steve Beck (one of the casualty assistance officers Sheeler followed) says "It's not an ending. It's not a period at the end of their lives. It's a semicolon. The story will continue to be told."
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
It is difficult to not conflate anger/dislike/sadness about the war (any war) with those who fight its battles. If we learned one sad lesson from Vietnam, perhaps this is the most meaningful. Final Salute gives the reader a chance to look at the person behind the medals. More than this, though, it gives the reader a glimpse at the pain from which survivors never fully find relief.

Why do men and women willingly go to war? A subject for a different treatise. Should their memories be honored in the breach? Final Salute does that.
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LibraryThing member IllanoyGal
The sub-title of this book tells so much for these are stories of 'unfinished lives'. Very poignant and touching stories about our military and the families who suffer the ultimate loss.
LibraryThing member Grabbag
I had tears running down my face during the entire 3 hours it took to read this book. The daughter of a Marine and sister of 2 soldiers, this book was too close to being real for me. Luckily my family always came home. Too many families have to suffer the loss of a loved one, and this books tells us how they hear of the news, and the hardships that ensue. The author did not have a political agenda, just a desire to show Civilian America what military families go through when their loved one dies overseas. I recommend this book for every Civilian. Period.… (more)
LibraryThing member olevia
The author, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, tells us what it really is to be a Marine casualty officer in a time of two wars, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan. Reading this book will take you with this man as he breaks the news of soldiers' deaths to their families & as he supports those families through those losses in the years that follow those losses.

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