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The Things that Carried Him

Posted in Life by thisisanexperiment on March 7, 2009

For the past few days, I have been reading an article of most interest. Although not all will want to read it due to its content/topic- Death of a U.S soldier in Iraq.
This insightful article goes into a process that is more often than not, unknown about, until now.

We read alot about the death toll in Iraq (or anywhere else) on a daily basis; as callous as it may sound, I find myself growing numb to it. The great thing about this article then, is that it humanizes it again. All those deaths you hear about are just numbers, but behind every statistic, there is a story- in this case, it’s one about one Sgt Joe Montogomery. There is sadness, tragedy, and a life that was ended too young (at 30 years), that we normally never get to hear about.

Just reading the article alone, gave me a glimpse of the heartache that these soldier’s families must suffer. It may be 11 pages (which is pretty long), but I believe that its well worth the read. So if you have time, please go ahead. Read it.

The Things that Carried Him by Chris Jones


Alone, Don Collins Sr. and Sergeant Dunaway peeled back the flag like a bedsheet and opened the casket. There was Joey, carefully dressed in his Class-A uniform with white gloves and polished boots, his badges and cords in place, and his face serene. It was mostly unmarked, and the two men agreed that even though the Port Mortuary in Dover, Delaware — where every soldier killed in action is prepared for burial — had advised against a family viewing, Joey looked good enough for the Montgomerys to see him if they would like.

“I needed to do that to believe it was him,” Gail said. She, Missie, and Micah stood over Joey for a long time that Tuesday evening. They touched him and spoke to him gently. Gail and Missie hadn’t seen him in months, and war had changed him, or maybe it was their memories of him that had changed, and now their eyes took him in, every inch of him, as though he’d been long lost.

It was Micah who noticed that his ring was missing. Joey was a Mason, and the ring was a chunk of steel that he wore on the middle finger of his right hand, a gift from Gail that last Christmas to replace the one that had been cut off him before he deployed, his finger swollen with infection. Now Micah took off his own Mason’s ring, and he leaned down to slip it onto Joey’s right middle finger, over his white glove. That’s when Gail began to shake; the gloved finger folded in on itself, empty but for cotton and carefully rolled strips of gauze.

The guardsmen had carried enough caskets to deduce, from what their arms told them as they grasped the handles and lifted, something of the person inside. They know if the dead soldier was big or little, and they can also make a good guess at how he died, whether he was killed by small-arms fire or a helicopter crash or an IED. Sometimes they’d lifted caskets and been surprised by the weight of them — wooden caskets are heavier than metal, and that combined with a strapping young man can make for a considerable burden, several hundred pounds — and sometimes there was barely any weight at all, and they knew that inside the casket was a pressed uniform carefully pinned to layers of sheets and blankets, between which might be nestled only fragments of a former life, sealed in plastic.

They had also learned how not to betray a hint of this sudden knowledge. Sergeant Montgomery’s casket was lighter than they were expecting, but they kept what they call their “game faces.” They’d learned to train their eyes on one place, focusing usually on a point in the distance, the way sailors settle their stomachs by looking at the horizon.

Karen Giles tells a story about another young airman, who was polishing the brass on a dead soldier’s uniform jacket. He was using a little tool, a kind of buffer, to make sure that every button shined. A visitor complimented him on his attention to detail. “The family will really appreciate what you’re doing,” the visitor said. But the airman replied, “Oh, no, sir, the family won’t know about this.” The airman told him that the family had requested that their son be cremated, and just a short while later, he was.

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