Pulled Out of a Combat Deployment, the Author Escorted His Younger Brother’s Body Home from War
“Sergeant Donleigh Gaunky’s moving memoir speaks to everyone who has lost a loved one in defense of our great nation. It serves as a reminder that freedom is not free, and it is our responsibility to continue to care for our service members, veterans, and their families. I am touched that Fisher House provided a refuge for Sergeant Gaunky during such a difficult journey.”—Ken Fisher, Chairman and CEO, Fisher House Foundation
“Fewer and fewer Americans have any close association with anyone serving in the Armed Forces. Donleigh Gaunky offers a heart-rending glimpse into his family as he, and they, grapple with the loss of Donleigh’s brother on a battlefield in Iraq. Every American should read this and, in so doing, learn what “Thank You for Your Service” really means.”
—Gen. Carter F. Ham, USA, Ret., President and CEO, Association of the United States Army
In November 2005, while analyzing live action reports at his base in Baghdad, Iraq, Donleigh O. Gaunky froze. His younger brother Alex’s unit had been hit by the enemy. Almost immediately, arrangements were made for Donleigh to meet his wounded brother in Germany, but Alex succumbed to his injuries before he arrived. Instead, Donleigh was asked to assume the role of remains escort. Most of the time a remains escort is picked at random from the appropriate branch of service or is someone with a relationship to the deceased, most often from the soldier’s own unit. Rarely—if ever in modern times—is the escort a family member. In The Hardest Journey Home: A True Story of Loss and Duty During the Iraq War, Donleigh O. Gaunky describes the events that unfolded over the course of a few days, from the front line in Iraq to the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany to their small town in Wisconsin, where he arrived with his brother’s body on Thanksgiving Day. In an effort to keep his mind off the tragedy and remain focused on his task, the author describes the protocol for escorting a body home—paperwork, appropriate attire, the proper use of the flag, when and where to salute—as well as how his divorced parents coped with the loss of one of their four sons serving in the military. Relying on commercial flights to bring Alex home, there was no military reception when they first landed in the United States and the author learned how little his brother’s sacrifice meant on a national level. But he was uplifted by his town’s response to his family’s loss when they unexpectedly lined the streets to pay their respects to one of their own. An important and moving story, The Hardest Journey Home reveals the human cost of a long, seemingly invisible war.