It is hard to put into words the overwhelming sadness that envelopes you when you see NY Times photographer, Todd Heisler’s Pulitzer winning photo, at 5:00 in the morning. You are not in your bedroom. You are in that room where the stars and stripes draped the coffin. You are sitting in the pew, watching the scenes from Heisler’s photos unfold. The sun has not risen, and all is not well in the world.
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. James Cathey was killed in an IED explosion. His wife Katherine was only 23 years old, pregnant with their first child.
Heisler chronicles Lt. Cathey’s final journey home in a series of heartbreaking series photographs that won him the coveted Pulitzer prize. His photographs capture the devastating reality of loss, and the immeasurable amount of love that defies death.
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 in Brighton 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. (TODD HEISLER/ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS)
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.” (TODD HEISLER/ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS)
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.” (TODD HEISLER/ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS)
To see Heisler’s complete Pulitzer-winning series of the Final Journey, click here.
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