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Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Whenever a movie shows the folks at home while there is a war going on, you are very likely to see this: A pair of military personnel, in dress uniform, approaching the home of the soldier's family. The family will almost always know what this means.
It is worth mentioning that this job is very stressful for those tasked with the duty, as they have to constantly be the Bearer of Bad News of the worst sort.
While most common in war movies, it is also a trope tragically familiar to familes of firefighters and police officers as well. When the notice is (most commonly) delivered in person, it is closely related to Due to the Dead. Compare to He Didn't Make It. May feature a Tragic Keepsake. If the notification is laced with white lies to spare the recipient pain or avoid tainting the deceased's memory, see The Power of Legacy.
In some cases, this takes the form of a telegram, to the point where the Genre Savvy will immediately guess the contents of a telegram recieved by a character in a wartime setting.
Should not be confused with Death Note.
- Ikigami the Ultimate Limit inverts the trope. People are given notification that they will die in the next 24 hours.
- Across the Universe: Right after Lucy finishes singing about how her boyfriend (in the Army) will be coming home to visit soon.
- A League of Their Own: one of the girls gets a telegram telling her that her husband was killed in action. The man delivering the telegram somehow didn't realize that he never bothered to find out which woman on the team was supposed to receive the letter, causing some angst.
- Big Fish has one, when the main character is sent on a suicide mission and doesn't return. We know he's alive, but his wife doesn't. Of course, the son he tells this story to assumes it's another one of his dad's tall tales. it isn't.
- The 2009 movie The Messenger focuses on the men who deliver the notices.
- In Nanny McPhee Returns, there's one of these, but it's delivered by telegram rather than the two representatives. It later proves to be a forgery.
- Done for test pilots' families in The Right Stuff.
- Saving Private Ryan has a montage early on as Mrs. Ryan receives a series of death notices for all but one of her sons.
- In Swing Kids (about teenagers in Hitler's Germany) one of the kids is forced into the Hitler Youth, and is assigned to deliver some small boxes to various people, all of whom scream after he leaves. He decides to open one and discovers a wedding ring and some ash - he'd been delivering the remains of people who had been executed and cremated.
- Taking Chance: The very beginning of the film does this from the point of view of the military personnel delivering the notice.
- We Were Soldiers: Subverted, the notices are delivered by a taxi cab driver, who really isn't enjoying the experience.
- Julia Moore and Barbara Geoghegan take it upon themselves to deliver the letters themselves, both to save the taxi driver from some of the anguish and out of a sense of responsibility to their neighbors.
- Subverted again in the film's climax, when a car with two men in uniform stop in front of Julia's house... and one of them is Hal Moore, home from the war.
- The Messenger Guess what kind of messenger Staff Sergeant Ben Foster and Captain Woody Harrelson are.
- Red Tails. The jeep pulls up outside Sofia's home, two officers walk up to Sofia, and Lucas doesn't even bother giving us any dialogue here.
- Space: Above and Beyond: After the death of Nathan West's younger brother Neil, Nathan is shocked to discover that the notification letter was sent to the wrong address. He ends up writing a letter of his own home to inform his mother himself. It is implied that rather than being hand-delivered, the notices are sent in the mail in "ugly yellow envelopes".
- This is seen again in the episode Never No More: After someone's fighter gets locked with an enemy Ace Custom and is sent spiraling into a planet, it is stated in the debriefing that the enemy ace survived. When asked about the friendly pilot, the CO drops a yellow envelope on the table.
- Sarah Jane gets one of these visits from a UNIT colonel, accompanied by an entourage of armored trucks and gun-toting grunts (Seriously, did they think Sarah Jane was going to eat them or something?), in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Death of the Doctor. She doesn't believe it for a minute.
- A Dream Sequence/Imagine Spot in the 200th episode ("Life Before His Eyes") of NCIS had Gibbs pose the question "What would have happened if I'd stayed in the Marines and never joined NCIS?" The answer is in the form of the fateful knock on the door for Gibbs' wife Shannon.
- In the Doctor Who serial The Curse of Fenric, Ace's friend Kathleen gets a telegram notifying her of the death of her husband.
- Dragon Age has a Sidequest that involves delivering death notifications to widows. Actually Played for Laughs if you ask one of your more flippant teammates do it for you, resulting in quotes like Morrigan's "Your man has died. Get over it."
- In Valkyria Chronicles III E2, Not only Kurt must bring the news of Gusurg's death to the dead guy's big sister, but he must also explain that Gusurg died as a treator to Gallia, having chosen to defect to the invading Empire's Calamity Raven for the sake of a chance for his ostracized people to found their own country. And that Kurt killed Gusurg by his own hands. The big sister face the news solemnly, stating that Gusurg died for what he believed. This is the last straw for Kurt's psyche, and Riela and Imca must talk him to his senses. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
- In Mass Effect 3, Shepard can deliver a death notification to an asari on the Citadel whose krogan husband died fighting the Reapers. Only if you helped the two of them get together in the previous game, though. It's fairly sad.
- Brawl in the Family #200 had this at one point. It even shows up in the page image for What Measure Is a Mook?.
- Penny Arcade, while Hanging a Lampshade on The Joys of Torturing Mooks present in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, in this strip.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal subverts this with "I'm afraid I'm the bearer of some bad news. Your husband is a hat."
- Exo Squad: According to one of the post-episode "Character card" segments the show featured, Avery Butler personally records a message for the family of every Jumptrooper who dies under his command. Given that the homeworlds are occupied, he can't deliver these messages. He still records them.
- In The Simpsons, a former street punk turned soldier named Armin Tamzarian delivers one of these to the mother of his MIA superior officer, Seymour Skinner, in a flashback. It's then subverted when he can't bring himself to tell her and pretends to be her son; he is the man now known as Principal Skinner.
- Also an example of Did Not Do the Research, since in the American military, the men who give the notification are traditionally at the same rank as the deceased or higher.
- In Thundercats 2011 Prodigal general Grune, arriving home from a years'-long search for an Ancient Artifact, delivers word of his comrade Panthro's loss to mutual friend King Claudus, while handing over one of the former's nunchucks. The details are suspiciously vague, not to spare Claudus emotionally, but to hide Grune's betrayal and defection to Big Bad Mumm-Ra until their invasion forces are marshalled.
- The task can't be delegated to anyone else, as his squad is a penal legion that's not officially recorded in the military