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National News / Feature

What Does Our Government Do With Dead Soldiers?

Why It Matters How Our Nation Treats Men and Women Who Die in Battle

They are described in abstract, an intangible, a number. A whisper of a tragedy in the voice of the evening news anchor reading the body count from the latest ambush or bombing overseas. They are the soldiers who’ve fallen in battle and whose lives are now chalked up as new additions to the list of the dead: The Soldier Dead. But what happens to these brave men and women after the brutality of war extinguishes their lives? Who cares for their lifeless bodies? Will their remains make the final journey back to the town they once called home? And why is it important to understand how the military handles the deaths of soldiers?

Unless a soldier is your family member or hails from your hometown, most of us who aren’t indoctrinated in the policies of the military have no clue about the sequence of events that follow the wartime death of a soldier. It’s been said that, thanks to television, wars are now fought in our living rooms. We see images of buildings reduced to piles of crumbling mortar and vehicles violently transformed into charred and blackened steel. We may even see the limp bodies of ‘enemy dead’ strewn along the roadside.

What we don’t see, because the United States government no longer allows media coverage is the dignified return of the remains of U.S. soldiers as they arrive stateside in flag-shrouded transfer cases. Author Michael Sledge says, “We typically ask ‘why is this policy in place?’ But what we should also ask is ‘how, as a nation, do we honor the deaths of the soldiers who’ve died while serving their country?’ The war is public, but as the remains of the soldiers return unannounced, the nation has lost its chance to understand the true cost of war and to grieve for these soldiers and honor them and their families.”

At a time when the nation is deeply divided over the Iraq War, Sledge’s book, Soldier Dead, compassionately and insightfully delves into a topic where few have dared to venture. “The military’s policy on dealing with dead soldiers has evolved over the years,” says Sledge. “But to understand the significance of today’s treatment of the war dead, you have to go back to the earliest battles involving U.S. troops to see how the policies have been shaped and how they’ve changed over time.”

Soldier Dead, slated for paperback release in spring 2007, addresses the tangled web of political, social, religious, economic and physical issues that dictates how the military identifies, recovers and handles the remains of soldiers who have died in battle. Sledge examines the extraordinary lengths the military will take to retrieve a fallen soldier who is unaccounted for, and includes the perspective of family members who are left wondering if their soldier is really dead or, instead, held captive by enemy forces.

With unprecedented access to archival photographs and the military personnel who care for the dead, Sledge crafts a compelling and emotional history of the handling of fallen soldiers. Peppered with personal anecdotes from letters, diaries and conversations with soldiers who’ve seen their comrades die, or who’ve walked through battlefields littered with enemy dead, Soldier Dead illustrates the true cost of war, on a human scale and reminds the reader that behind each fallen soldier is a family who pays a price that can never be measured by the dollars any government spends to feed, house and arm its troops.

 

Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury & Honor Our Military Fallen
By Michael Sledge

357 pp., hard cover $29.95 US
Columbia University Press, 2005
ISBN 0231135149

376 pp., soft cover $19.95 US
Columbia University Press, May 1, 2007
ISBN 0231135157

Available at www.mikesledge.com and www.amazon.com

 

About The Author:

Michael Sledge is a native of South Texas, who has spent most of his adult life in Louisiana wearing many professional hats, including that of CPA, Personal Financial Specialist, insurance agent and investment representative. Sledge, a psychology graduate from Louisiana State University, is a self-educated student of military affairs and has always been intrigued with the application of social theories to military activities. He lives with his dogs Max and Taylor in Louisiana.

Source: Event Management Services, Inc.


 

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