For a group of Cathey's friends, there was one more task.
The Marines, many of whom had flown in from Okinawa the night before, walked up to the casket. One by one, they removed their white gloves and placed them on the smooth wood. Then they reached into a bag of sand the same dark gray shade as gunpowder.
A few years ago, while stationed in the infantry in Hawaii, Jim Cathey and his friends had taken a trip to Iwo Jima, where nearly 6,000 Marines had lost their lives almost 60 years before. They slept on the beach, thinking about all that had happened there. The day before they left, they each collected a bag of sand.
Those bags of sand sat in their rooms for years. Girlfriends questioned them. Wives wondered what they would ever do with them.
One by one, the young Marines poured a handful of sand onto the gloves atop the casket, then stepped back.
Sgt. Gavin Conley, who had escorted his friend's body to Reno, reached into the bag, made a fist and drizzled the grains onto the casket.
Once again, he slowly brought his bare hand to his brow.
A final salute.
See this extraordinary report titled "Final Salute" at the Denver RockyMountainNews.com which profiles Maj. Steve Beck as he carries out a tradition that started in 1775: Never leave a Marine behind.
Maj. Beck is a casualty assistance calls officer.
Rocky Mountain News reporter Jim Sheeler and photographer Todd Heisler spent the past year with the Marines stationed at Aurora's Buckley Air Force Base who have found themselves called upon to notify families of the deaths of their sons in Iraq. In each case in this story, the families agreed to let Sheeler and Heisler chronicle their loss and grief.
They wanted people to know their sons, the men and women who brought them home, and the bond of traditions more than 200 years old that unite them.
Though readers are led through the story by the white-gloved hand of Maj. Steve Beck, he remains a reluctant hero. He is, he insists, only a small part of the massive mosaic that is the Marine Corps.
Read the whole thing, and make sure to view the video presentation.
Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey tribute at the Soldiers' Angels Fallen Heroes blog.