Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Never Forget Our Brothers and Sisters

I was all set to write about a story I heard on NPR's Fresh Air about a Marine who worked in Mortuary Affairs, when I came across a piece from Publisher's Weekly about the winner of the 2011 Pritzker Military Writing Award. It's kizmet, I tell you. I will combine the two.

SHADE IT BLACK: Death and After in IraqFirst,  Jess Goodell writes in her book, Shade It Black: death and after in Iraq of her experiences working in the Marine Corps' Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq. Her platoon was in charge of recovering and processing the remains of fallen soldiers. It is a haunting interview to listen to, definitely NOT for children or the faint of heart. 

It must be a really tough job to catalog a fallen soldier's belongings, etc. to give them and their families their due respect. I don't think I could do it. It's not like a civilian mortuary where the undertaker doesn't necessarily know the deceased. The fallen are family in the military. They are brothers and sisters. Fodder for PTSD. and Jess Goodell goes into all of that in her interview and book.

The title, Shade It Black comes from the process while documenting distinguishing characteristics on the fallen, if there are body parts missing, they are instructed to shade it black.

Here is the official synopsis of the book:
In 2008, CBS' Chief Foreign Correspondent, Lara Logan, candidly speculated about the human side of the war in Iraq: "Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier. What does that look like? Who in America knows what that looks like? Because I know what that looks like, and I feel responsible for the fact that no one else does..." Logan's query raised some important yet ignored questions: How did the remains of American service men and women get from the dusty roads of Fallujah to the flag-covered coffins at Dover Air Force Base? And what does the gathering of those remains tell us about the nature of modern warfare and about ourselves? These questions are the focus of Jess Goodell's story, Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq.Jess enlisted in the Marines immediately after graduating from high school in 2001, and in 2004 she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps' first officially declared Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq. Her platoon was tasked with recovering and processing the remains of fallen soldiers. With sensitivity and insight, Jess describes her job retrieving and examining the remains of fellow soldiers lost in combat in Iraq, and the psychological intricacy of coping with their fates, as well as her own. Death assumed many forms during the war, and the challenge of maintaining one's own humanity could be difficult. Responsible for diagramming the outlines of the fallen, if a part was missing she was instructed to "shade it black." This insightful memoir also describes the difficulties faced by these Marines when they transition from a life characterized by self-sacrifice to a civilian existence marked very often by self-absorption. In sharing with us the story of her own journey, Goodell also helps us to better understand how PTSD affects female veterans. With the assistance of John Hearn, she has written one of the most unique accounts of America's current wars overseas yet seen.
 And now for the Publisher's Weekly article:
Carlo D'Este Wins Pritzker Military Writing Award
Carlo D’Este has been selected to receive the 2011 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. The $100,000 honorarium, citation and medallion, sponsored by the Chicago-based Tawani Foundation, will be presented on October 22, 2011.
The Pritzker Military Library Literature Award recognizes a living author for a body of work that has profoundly enriched the public understanding of American military history.
“Carlo D’Este has made a tremendous collective contribution to the literary community at large,” said Colonel (IL) J.N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), founder of the Pritzker Military Library and Tawani Foundation. “He has spent as much time in the field, with his boots on the ground, as he has seeing to it that scholars of the next generation are carefully mentored while progressing along their own paths.”
D'Este’s first book, Decision in Normandy (1983), offered a fresh perspective on the leadership of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and the Allied landings after D-Day. His books Bitter Victory (1988) and Fatal Decision (1991), covered the battles for Sicily and Rome respectively.
Decision in NormandyBitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily, 1943Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome
A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel with service in Vietnam, D'Este has received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal, and Commendation Medal for his military service.

Both of these stories remind us that we NOT forget or lose sight of all the hard work and sacrifices our members of the US military do for us. They are our family. They are our protectors. We must thank God every day for giving them the courage and strength to do what they do.

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