Jia-Rui Chong
Los Angeles Times
March 25, 2009

The body was found behind a soccer field in a sunken, weed-choked stream bed. It lay next to a dome tent and a pile of blankets.

[efoods]Matthew Barlow snapped on a pair of latex gloves and hopped out of the coroner’s van. A flashlight led him through the inky darkness. Barlow hoped he could stand the smell.

Lance Cpl. Barlow, 23, was one of 14 Marines embedded for three weeks last month at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. They were on their way to Iraq, where their job would be to collect the dead and start them on their journey back to their families.

But first, the coroner’s office was going to force them to confront death — its sights, its smells — day after day.

When Barlow started training for the specialty job last summer, he hadn’t had any personal experience with death — no one close to him, not even a pet, had died. In the beginning at the coroner’s office, he would hang back during autopsies. He was tentative when he had to pull on dead people’s arms to help break rigor mortis, the stiffness that develops after death.

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