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'Someone Had To Do It': Airman Gives Fallen Soldiers A Final Salute

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StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During her back-to-back deployments Iraq for the U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman MaCherie Dunbar volunteered to do "patriot detail" — a ceremony for soldiers, airmen, Marines or sailors killed in action.

"You line up in two columns, up to the back of a C-130. And you give them final salute as they're loaded onto the plane. Not that many people showed up to do it," Dunbar told her girlfriend, Barb Maglaqui, on a visit to StoryCorps in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"The first time I volunteered for one, I didn't really know what it was," she says. "I thought maybe it was going to be just one or two coffins. But they just kept coming, one after the other, and then another, and then another."

It was one of the hardest things she had to do while overseas, says Dunbar, who has been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I don't know how many I sent home. But someone had to do it. Someone had to send them home," she says.

"So I volunteered almost every time they needed people after that. Even if I'd just come off of a 14-hour shift. But then we'd just move on to the next day. And it was just business as usual."

"Do you feel guilty about that?" Maglaqui asks Dunbar.

"I guess somewhere deep down I do," says Dunbar. "Because, I made it back."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.

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