This is a picture story: Maybe being a Marine myself, this hits harder, but I doubt it.
On the tarmac at the Reno Airport, 23-year-old Katherine Cathey waits in a limousine next to an empty hearse, preparing to watch the arrival of her husband’s casket. Five days earlier, she learned of her husband’s death in Iraq. Two days later, she learned that her baby would be a boy.
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 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.
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.”
Marine Major Steve Beck prepares for the final inspection of 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey’s body, only days after notifying Cathey’s wife of the Marine’s death in Iraq. The knock at the door begins a ritual steeped in tradition more than two centuries old; a tradition based on the same tenet: “Never leave a Marine behind.”
Inside the mortuary, Katherine Cathey draped herself over her husband’s casket before putting personal items in it. Flowers from their wedding, a bottle of Jim’s favorite perfume and an ultrasound of their son were some of the things Katherine placed next to 2nd Lt. James Cathey’s remains.
Because James Cathey was killed in a massive explosion, his body was delicately wrapped in a shroud by military morticians, then his Marine uniform was laid atop his body. Since Katherine Cathey decided not to view her husband’s body, Maj. Steve Beck took her hand, and pressed it down on the uniform. “He’s here,” he said quietly. “Feel right here.”
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, 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.”
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.”
For three days straight, Marines stood watch over the body of 2nd Lt. James Cathey, taking periodic breaks in a room within the mortuary, where Staff Sgt. David Rubio rubbed his eyes after a nap. Rubio was sent to represent the Marines from the University of Colorado, where he first met Cathey. “I’ve never stood that kind of duty,” Rubio said. “When you’re in college, you’re so detached from what’s happening in Iraq … The more we talk about it the harder it seems to get.”
The day before the funeral of their friend, 2nd Lt. Jon Mueller, left, and 1st Lt. Matthew Baumann practiced for hours folding a flag, making sure there would be no errors the next day. “That will be the last time his flag is folded,” said Maj. Steve Beck, as he instructed them. “It has to be perfect.”
Katherine Cathey pressed her pregnant belly to her husband’s casket, moaning softly. The baby, born Dec. 22, 2005, was named James Jeffrey Cathey, Jr.
As his son’s funeral neared, Jeff Cathey’s tears rarely stopped. He often found comfort in the men who shared his son’s uniform. “Someone asked me what I learned from my son,” he said. “He taught me you need more than one friend.”
Before the burial of James Cathey’s body, his casket was covered with the white gloves of the Marines who carried him, along with sand they brought from the beaches of Iwo Jima, and a single red rose.
Enough said. Have a great day and enjoy whatever liberty you have remaining!