The following photos and stories involve the depth of love and the ultimate sacrifice facing our troops and their families. Please view them with the respect and honor they deserve.

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography went to National Press Phototographers Association member Todd Heisler of the The Rocky Mountain News for this photographic series “FINAL SALUTE,” the emotional and heartbreaking story of U.S. Marines whose job it is to break the bad news of a soldier’s death to families and to escort their war-torn bodies home for burial.

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography went to Todd Heisler and The Rocky Mountain News for this photographic series© All rights reserved by Todd Heisler and Rocky Mountain News

First Place
Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News

When 2nd Lt. James Cathey’s body arrived at the Reno Airport , Marines climbed into the cargo hold of the plane and draped the flag over his casket as passengers watched the family gather on the tarmac.

During the arrival of another Marine’s casket last year at Denver International Airport , Major Steve Beck described the scene as so powerful: ‘See the people in the windows? They sat right there in the plane, watching those Marines. You gotta wonder what’s going through their minds, knowing that they’re on the plane that brought him home,’ he said ‘They will remember being on that plane for the rest of their lives. They’re going to remember bringing that Marine home. And they should.’

Second Place
Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News

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’

Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News series

1) At the first sight of her husband’s flag-draped casket, Katherine Cathey broke into uncontrollable sobs, finding support in the arms of Major Steve Beck.  When Beck first knocked on her door in Brighton, Colorado, to notify her of her husband’s death, she glared at him, cursed him, and refused to speak to him for more than an hour.  Over the next several days, he helped guide her through the grief.  By the time they reached the tarmac, she wouldn’t let go.

2) Minutes after her husband’s casket arrived at the Reno airport, Katherine Cathey fell onto the flag.  When 2nd Lt. James Cathey left for Iraq, he wrote a letter to Katherine that read, in part, “there are no words to describe how much I love you, and will miss you.  I will also promise you one thing:  I will be home.  I have a wife and a new baby to take care of, and you guys are my world.”

3) After arriving at the funeral home, Katherine Cathey pressed her pregnant belly to her husband’s casket, moaning softly.  Two days after she was notified of Jim’s death in Iraq, she found out they would have a boy.  Born on December 23, 2005, he was named James Jeffrey Cathey, Jr.

John Moore recorded an image of Mary McHugh at the grave of her fiance Sgt. James John Regan (who was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq in February 2007) at Arlington National Cemetery, May 27, 2007.

Mary McHugh, the fiancé of a James Regan, moved a thousand mourners to tears with her touching tribute at his funeral.  “Jimmy was a hero to many, but he was always very humble,” she said of her beloved.  “He always sought team success and not personal glory.”

Regan was to marry McHugh, a medical student at Emory University, when his Army service ended.  He was killed in February 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. “Jimmy and I were so excited to stand up in front of God, our family and friends and declare our love for each other,” McHugh said.  ”Only God knows why we were deprived of that opportunity, but it doesn’t change the sentiments I have.”

H/T Old Ironsides

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