James Blake Miller is the Marine depicted in the photo above during the battle of Fallujah. The photograph was snapped by Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco. In today’s Times, Sinco tells Miler’s story and how the photograph affected both their lives.
Since Miller returned from Iraq he has been racked by extreme mental pain, despair, suffering, guilt. All of the feelings are on display in the three-part video the Times has put together telling the story. NRO’s Thomas Smith of The Tank describes the video as “truly one of the most moving veterans videos I’ve ever seen.”
Within days of Miller’s apparently storybook wedding, Miller disappeared. Miller’s wife called on Sinco for help. Shortly after Sinco’s arrival, they found Miller with another woman. Miller declared that he had filed for divorce. Miller talked with Sinco about the suicidal thoughts that were consuming him:
I found Miller in a back bedroom at his uncle’s house. He told me that he had come close to committing suicide the night before. He had thought about driving his motorcycle off the edge of a mountain road.
He showed me the morning newspaper. His divorce was the lead story.
I felt torn. I didn’t want to get involved. I desperately wanted to close the book on Iraq. But if I hadn’t taken Miller’s picture, this very personal drama wouldn’t be front-page news. I felt responsible.
Sometimes, when things get hard to witness, I use my camera as a shield. It creates a space for me to work — and distance to keep my eyes open and my feelings in check. But Miller had no use for a photojournalist. He needed a helping hand.
I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Fallouja. In the rattle and thunder, brick walls separated me from the world coming to an end. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.
Above the din, I heard what everybody was thinking: This is the end.
I’ve never felt so completely alone.
I snapped back to the present, and before I knew it, the words spilled out.
“I have to ask you something, Blake,” I said. “If I’d gone down in Fallouja, would you have carried me out?”
“Damn straight,” he said, without hesitation.
“OK then,” I said. “I think you’re wounded pretty badly. I want to help you.”
He looked at me for a moment. “All right,” he said.