Katherine Cathey & 2nd Lt. James Cathey Love Story

This photographic series won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize

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, Colorado, 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.

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.”

The knock at the door begins a ritual steeped in tradition more than two centuries old;  a tradition based on the same tenet:  “Never leave a Marine behind.”  When the wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq, Maj. Steve Beck expected to find himself overseas, in the heat of battle.  He never thought he would be the one arranging funerals for his fallen comrades.

Major Steve Beck and another Marine approach the family home of 2nd Lt. James Cathey, preparing to escort the Catheys to the airport to receive their son’s body.  Five days earlier, the shadows of Casualty Assistance Call Officers followed the same path, carrying the news no military family ever wants to hear.  “I’ll never forget Major Beck’s profile,” said Bob Burns of the night he was notified of his son’s death.  The gold star flag in the window signifies the death of a loved one oversees.

After arriving at the funeral home, Katherine Cathey pressed her pregnant belly to her husband’s casket, moaning softly.  Two days after she was notified of Jim’s death in Iraq, she found out they would have a boy.

Born on December 23, 2005, he was named James Jeffrey Cathey, Jr.

Since James Cathey was killed in a massive explosion, his body was delicately wrapped in a shroud by military morticians, then his Marine uniform was laid atop his body. Since Katherine Cathey decided not to view her husband’s body, Maj. Steve Beck took her hand, and pressed it down on the uniform. “He’s here,” he said quietly. “Feel right here.”

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.”

Not sure what is more honorable: Being married to this faithful wife to the end or the Marine standing next to the casket watching over them both.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christina
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 04:15:41

    This story gets me everytime I read it. What amazing loyalty & respect these Marines have for one another and Mrs Cathey as well! We can only hope others learn from these brave people how to love, respect and care for each other. This world needs more people like these people in this story. We all need to remember to tell the ones we love, that we love them every chance we get! So very sorry for their loss.


  2. AnaV
    May 24, 2012 @ 18:44:24

    Every Memorial holiday, this story comes to my head. I hope Katherine has been able to heal and is living a happy life with her baby :)


  3. David Cassity
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 05:14:44

    Katherine, I want to thank you for what your husband and the other US MILITARY MEN & WOMEN do for us. If not for them, we would not be able to do what we are able to do in OUR LIFE’s. I just happened to click on a story about a jet having several returning for tours of duty overseas, and there was on that didn’t come home and his casket was on the jet, the captain said a few words and that was all. Then I happened to click on the video of you with the Officer that came to your door.
    Whether we know the men or women or not we still feel the hurt you all go through bbut I am sure not as bad. I personal cry and hold my dog when I see something like this. I am sorry for your loss and what you have gone through but still feel the hurt but not as bad. Thank you for what he had done for us and all the others. I can say with a clear mind I love them for what they do for me and the thousands that can say “”THANK YOU”” and as well as the hurt. I live in a mid size town in Texas, Lubbock, TX and we have had a few that didn’t make it home it hurt. So,
    thank you again for what he did for us and the USA. I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO BEABLE TO GO DO WHAT HE DID, I REALLY DO. We love him and love you aswell.
    David Cassity
    Lubbock, Tx


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