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They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear. It begins with a knock at the door. “The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know,” said Major Steve Beck.
Marines are trained to kill, to break down doors, but casualty notification is a mission without weapons. For Beck, the mission meant learning each dead marine’s name and nickname, touching the toys they grew up with and reading the letters they wrote home. He held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. He stitched himself into the fabric of their lives, in the simple hope that his compassion might help alleviate at least the smallest piece of their pain. Sometimes he returned home to his own family unable to keep from crying in the dark. …[more]