Sunday, December 30, 2007

TV tries to mimic Sheeler's "Final Salute"

The CBS Sunday Morning magazine program featured a segment called "The Fallen" on Dec. 30 as an end-of-the-year remembrance of servicemen and -women who died in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007.

From the beginning, it was clear that this was a recycling of reporter (and former obituary writer) Jim Sheeler's and photographer Todd Heisler's 2006 Pulitzer-winning "Final Salute", the tear-jerking, heart-tugging feature which was published in the Rocky Mountain News in 2005.

First, they showed Heisler's memorable photo of passengers' faces in the windows of a parked airplane as a flag-draped coffin is being carried out of the plane's belly.

Then the CBS newsman David Martin interviewed Steve Beck, the Marine whose job it was to knock on doors of the unsuspecting soon-to-be-bereaved, the Marine whom Jim and Todd shadowed in order to get the story.

Martin also interviewed Melissa Givens, a widow whom Jim probably first interviewed in 2003 after her husband, Jesse, drowned in a tank in the desert. Check Jim's story from March 19, 2004: "The lifetime gift of Pfc. Givens."

It was nice to see images I recognized and hear about what's happened to Beck - then Maj. Beck, now Lt. Col. Beck - and the widow Givens since Jim wrote about them.

But even with the weeping widow and the Marine saying he'll never forget the fallen or their families, the TV version lacked the emotional impact of Jim's words and all of Todd's photos.

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