JRNM 151 Student
The lives of fallen servicemen and the emotions experienced by their families echoed in the words of Pulitzer Prize Award winning journalist, James Sheeler, at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Cinema Hall on April 3.
Sheeler, a Shirley Wormser professor of journalism and media writing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, spoke to a group of students, faculty, and members of the community about “Final Salute,” a book compiling his Pulitzer Prize-winning feature stories about fallen servicemen and their families during the Iraq War.
Sheeler began as an obituary writer for the Rocky Mountain News, and it was there where he realized that he wanted to write about people whose stories have never been told. This is where his path to “Final Salute” began.
Sheeler was assigned to cover the first Colorado Marine killed in action in Iraq, Thomas Slocum, while working for the paper. From that moment on, Sheeler would continue to cover fallen Marines from Colorado and neighboring states.
“People are always looking for a loud moment,” Sheeler told the crowd about news stories. Yet he believes that the quiet moments are where the stories lie.
Vividly recalling his time spent with the families of these fallen servicemen, Sheeler filled the hall at LCCC with emotion.
Sheeler looked on as Katherine Cathey, wife of fallen Marine James J. Cathey, slept next to her husband’s casket the night before his funeral.
He attended the birthday party of Dakota Givens, the young son of Army Private First Class Jessie A. Givens. Sheeler looked on as Dakota’s mother, Melissa, helped her son send messages written on balloons up to his father in heaven. He emotionally read Givens’ last letter written to his family.
Sheeler held a white glove belonging to a Marine who fired the 21-gun salute at a military funeral. After shaking hands with the gloved Marine, whose glove was coarse and rough, he asked why the fingertips of his glove were worn through. The Marine explained to him that, because he had attended so many funerals, his gloves were worn completely through so that his skin was visible underneath.
When dealing with tragedy and crisis, it can be overwhelming at times, he said to journalism students. However, Sheeler said that unless those emotions are present, the story cannot be written correctly. “Try to be as human as possible. Think of the families you are speaking to like they are your own,” he said.
The last memory Sheeler shared was the time he shook the bare hand of a Marine, a different, more intimate experience. The purpose of his writing – and the purpose he advised future journalists to aspire to – is to allow the reader to touch the hand under the white glove.