Skip to comments.Final Salute
Posted on 11/10/2005 10:34:00 AM PST by A.A. Cunningham
By Jim Sheeler, Rocky Mountain News
November 9, 2005
Inside a limousine parked on the airport tarmac, Katherine Cathey looked out at the clear night sky and felt a kick.
"He's moving," she said. "Come feel him. He's moving."
Her two best friends leaned forward on the soft leather seats and put their hands on her stomach.
"I felt it," one of them said. "I felt it."
Outside, the whine of jet engines swelled.
"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."
Suddenly, the car door opened. A white-gloved hand reached into the limousine from outside - the same hand that had knocked on Katherine's door in Brighton five days earlier.
The man in the deep blue uniform knelt down to meet her eyes, speaking in a soft, steady voice.
"Katherine," said Maj. Steve Beck, "it's time."
Closer than brothers
The American Airlines 757 couldn't have landed much farther from the war.
Todd Heisler © News
When 2nd Lt. Jim 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 one of the most powerful in the process: "See the people in the windows? They'll sit 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're going to remember being on that plane for the rest of their lives. They're going to remember bringing that Marine home. And they should."
The plane arrived in Reno on a Friday evening, the beginning of the 2005 "Hot August Nights" festival - one of the city's biggest - filled with flashing lights, fireworks, carefree music and plenty of gambling.
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.
At 24 years old, Sgt. Gavin Conley was only seven days younger than the man in the coffin. The two had met as 17-year-olds on another plane - the one to boot camp in California. They had slept in adjoining top bunks, the two youngest recruits in the barracks.
All Marines call each other brother. Conley and Jim Cathey could have been. They finished each other's sentences, had matching infantry tattoos etched on their shoulders, and cracked on each other as if they had grown up together - which, in some ways, they had.
When the airline crew found out about Conley's mission, they bumped him to first-class. He had never flown there before. Neither had Jim Cathey.
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. Passengers in window seats leaned back to give others a better view. One held a child up to watch.
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.
blurry screen alert....
Sorry, I can't read the entire column. I'm at work and need to retain my composure. Had a real hard time with just the excerpt.
God Bless all of our men and women in uniform, and their families.
My eyes are full of tears for these fallen men, I reflect to many years ago while a Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam. I think everyone needs to see this presentation. I have been present as we went to the doors of families to share that their son had fallen in combat. Many years later as a Pastor, I have set and weeped with famlies again at the loss of their son. As the father of a Naval Officer my heart goes out to all the Young men and women who serve our beloved America.
Today, we celebrate the Birthday of United State Marine Corps. I love you guys, and hethanks for protecting me while I was in Vietnam serving with you. Mike Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division 1969-70
Amen. I'm going to have to go back to read this when I'm not at work.
God Bless all of our veterans, past and present. I can't thank them enough for their service.
Thanks for the post.
To everyone....the pictures are amazing.
Oh my gosh you got me crying now.
This just hits home. I spent yesterday fishing with a WWII veteran who told me the details of a battle in the South Pacific where he watched everybody around him get killed.
He held back tears (yes, after all these years, and he's 84) as he told me how him and another U.S. Army sharpshooter with the 81st Wildcat Division took out a nest of Japanese machine gunners and saved a whole lot of American lives.
He won a Silver Star for his efforts. He reached down to pick up the other guy's helmet, who got hit and died, and machine gun bullets knocked the helmet out of his hand, filling him full of shrapnel.
His commanding officer was tied to a board in a tree shooting, and they killed him. He told me about having to tell another man where to retrieve the body.
And about the guy operating the radio, who said that morning "I don't want to go out today, I have a bad feeling," who also died that day.
He was 20 years old then, and his stint in the Army was the first time this country boy had ever been away from his Tennessee home.
And today is the birthday of the U.S. Marines.
Thank God for these fine American men who give the ultimate sacrifice for others.
My heart hurts
I am going to have to read the whole thing later when I don't have kids walking in the door from school. That was heart wrenching.
Good Bless all the Fallen.
Oh, yeah.... Me, too.
Too tough to read...God bless this hero and his young family
Well put, mine as well. I couldn't finish reading it in one sitting.
Very sad, but extremely insightful and important article.
What a beautiful, yet sad, story. I think the man who wrote this for the paper must really have a heart as big as Texas, and writes as a friend would. Thank you for sharing it with us.
God Bless all of our men and women in uniform, and their families.
Dittos to all you wrote.
I just finished reading the entire article. Took a long time and a bunch of kleenex.
I will NEVER FORGET the men and women whose service makes freedom real.
When I was Navy active duty, I visited the Punch Bowl cemetery in Hawaii and found his name inscribed on one of several granite columns honoring the war dead & missing. To her own death, however, my great aunt believed Billy was still alive.
My brother, also Navy, later researched the circumstances surrounding his disappearance (patrol logs were declassified by that time), and it was determined his sub had run afoul of a Japanese minefield. Another sub in the same patrol area had exchanged supplies a couple of days earlier, then later heard an explosion on the sound phones. To his credit, my brother obtained copies of the patrol logs, a flag, and medals that he presented to my great aunt more than 50 years after her loss.
Very important indeed. Such a sad event. God, it just breaks ones heart as I know it did yours and probably everyone else who read it.
I can never read these without bawling. Friends' son is in boot camp right now.