The New York Times blog "At War" reprints a photo (two, actually) and tells a profoundly sad tale, one so appropriate for Memorial Day:
Taken by the photographer Todd Heisler from his 2005 award-winning series for The Rocky Mountain News, “Jim Comes Home” — which documents the return and burial of Second Lt. Jim Cathey of the Marines, who lost his life in Iraq — the photo shows his pregnant widow, Katherine, lying on an air mattress in front of his coffin. She’s staring at her laptop, listening to songs that remind her of Jim. Her expression is vacant, her grief almost palpable.
....What brings the tears to my eyes is not just the bereaved young woman, but the Marine who stands behind her. In an earlier photo in the series, we see him building her a little nest of blankets on the air mattress. Sweet Lord, I cry just typing the words, the matter-of-fact tenderness is so overwhelming. So soldierly. But in this photo — the one that lives on and on online — he merely stands next to the coffin, watching over her. It is impossible to be unmoved by the juxtaposition of the eternal stone-faced warrior and the disheveled modern military wife-turned-widow, him rigid in his dress uniform, her on the floor in her blanket nest, wearing glasses and a baggy T-shirt, him nearly concealed by shadow while the pale blue light from the computer screen illuminates her like God’s own grace.
As I alluded to earlier, there is more to the story, and another photograph as well. A precurser to the one above:
"Oh, sweetie," her friend said. "I think this is his plane."
As the three young women peered through the tinted windows, Katherine squeezed a set of dog tags stamped with the same name as her unborn son:
James J. Cathey.
"He wasn't supposed to come home this way," she said, tightening her grip on the tags, which were linked by a necklace to her husband's wedding ring.
The women looked through the back window. Then the 23-year-old placed her hand on her pregnant belly.
"Everything that made me happy is on that plane," she said.
They watched as airport workers rolled a conveyor belt to the rear of the plane, followed by six solemn Marines.
Katherine turned from the window and closed her eyes.
"I don't want it to be dark right now. I wish it was daytime," she said. "I wish it was daytime for the rest of my life. The night is just too hard."
...When a young Marine in dress uniform had boarded the plane to Reno, the passengers smiled and nodded politely. None knew he had just come from the plane's cargo hold, after watching his best friend's casket loaded onboard.
On the flight, the woman sitting next to him nodded toward his uniform and asked if he was coming or going. To the war, she meant.
He fell back on the words the military had told him to say: "I'm escorting a fallen Marine home to his family from the situation in Iraq."
The woman quietly said she was sorry, Conley said.
Then she began to cry.
When the plane landed in Nevada, the pilot asked the passengers to remain seated while Conley disembarked alone. Then the pilot told them why.
The passengers pressed their faces against the windows. Outside, a procession walked toward the plane...
From their seats in the plane, they saw a hearse and a Marine extending a white-gloved hand into a limousine, helping a pregnant woman out of the car.
On the tarmac, Katherine Cathey wrapped her arm around the major's, steadying herself. Then her eyes locked on the cargo hold and the flag-draped casket.
Inside the plane, they couldn't hear the screams....
In between the beers and hot dogs today, take a moment and say a prayer for Katherine. And baby James, too...