Monday, February 14, 2011


A non-descript U.S. military vehicle pulled up to the modest Coon Rapids, Iowa home in the early evening  of  January 29th.  The two military men in the car had received an assignment earlier that day, a difficult one to say the least.  As both got out of the car, they took some deep breaths for composure sake and headed up the walk and into the garage where the side entrance was located.  Inside the house were Vice Commander, David Muhr, and two of his American Legion Post 357 friends.  The three were partaking in a competitive game of cribbage.  Their plans that evening, after the friendly card game was a relaxing dinner and some further conversation.   The sound of the doorbell interrupted the game.  As Mr. Muhr made his way to the door, little did he know that on the other side of the door would be information..... information that would assure that the dinner conversation later that night would be one they had not experienced before.  The major and  chaplain readied themselves as the door swung open.  They were the bearers of some news.... Specialist Shawn A. Muhr had been killed earlier in the day while on a supply mission in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  They were there to deliver that message as respectfully as they knew how.  All eyes met at the Major asked, "Are you David Muhr"?

Respect In Life And In Death
The names of the two military men are not of importance here.  What I would like to impress upon you is  how that day unfolded.....the thoughts along the way and the necessary "gifts" needed in relaying the death notification to Muhr family.

The United States Military is extremely experienced at delivering the death notification to the proper kin of a fallen soldier.  During WWII and the Korean War, notification was done through a telegram.  Hardly a respectful way.  Years later, with the shear number of fatalities from Vietnam and the Gulf War,  the military began training their personnel to deliver the death notification in person.  To date, 3,503 death notifications have been delivered to families of servicemen and women who died in Iraq and 1,475 in Afghanistan.  If anything, this has become a "learned" process, one where compassion is of the upmost importance.

The early hours of January 29th were somewhat uneventful for the Major and Chaplain.  All that changed at 12:20 p.m. when the cellphone call came from the Deputy Personnel Officer telling of a death in the Iowa Military family.  Immediately, the problems of the day changed.  In several hours, they were going to convey one of the most difficult and important message of their lives. "I knew I was going to deliver some news that would ruin someone's day", the Major recounted.

Now, the important aspect for the two officers to remember was respect.  It was the significance of that word, that provided strength and composure the remainder of the day.  It began with the Class A uniform both took considerable time in preparing.....ensuring their dress was precise.  Other preparations were taking place in their minds and some of those were of the prayerful variety.  Prayer for the right demeanor, the strength in the words to deliver and compassion to help direct the family in picking up the pieces.  By 3:15 p.m. they were on their way to Coon Rapids.....albeit with a potential slowdown in the making.

The Army's policy is for the primary next of kin to be notified first and then the secondary next of kin.  In this particular case, the widow of Specialist Muhr, Winifred Olchawa, who was at Fort Rucker, Alabama, was first on that list.  As the Major and the Chaplain drew closer to Coon Rapids it was apparent they would need to divert their course.  Not only did they have to wait on the news that the Ft. Rucker message had been delivered.....they now needed to avoid anyone detecting them.  Two Class A uniformed officers in a government vehicle in a small town would certainly be easy to spot.  For a little over an hour the wait continued, hidden next to a grain elevator in town.  Finally, the message delivered call was received.  At 5:45 p.m. the   non-descript military car began its final course to the Muhr residence.

Minutes later, when the Major began his words to David Muhr, he said them with a sense of strength and compassion.  "Mr. Muhr, I have an official message from the Secretary of the Army".......

A recent NPR program (National Public Radio) discussed the notification process from all sorts of angles.  It spoke on the "sorrowful anger" that many experience when they are informed of their soldiers touched on how that moment affects everyone (officers and family) very deeply in so many ways.....and it
spoke about the assistance to the family in the days leading up to the funeral and beyond.  One of the officers interviewed mentioned, "there is no way to soak into the experience of seeing two soldiers in their Class A's  coming to the front door.....and then to see that world collapse.  Our faces will be locked together....the image of the news I just delivered".   



P.S.  My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.  God has fixed the time for my death.
I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.  That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave--- Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

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