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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Marlboro Marine" Model of the Modern Veteran

Times photographer Luis Sinco made James Blake Miller, a.k.a. Marlboro Marine an emblem of the war. The shot (right) was taken during a formidable battle sustaining major loss of life. His face, smeared with war paint, blood trickled from his right ear and the bridge of his nose. Deafened by canon blasts, Miller was not aware that the shooting had stopped. Sinco said, “His expression caught my eye. To me it said: terrified, exhausted and glad just to be alive. I recognized that look because that’s how I felt too.” Sinco sent the photo back to the U.S. as the last photo of many in his daily report. Almost instantly, the photo was emailed around the world and was published in more than 100 newspapers. Miller became an icon overnight.

“Miller, get your ass up here,” a first sergeant reportedly remarked a few days after the photo was taken. Maj. Gen. Natonski was waiting to see him. The Major barked, “America has connected with this photo. Nobody wants to see you dead or wounded. We can have you home tomorrow.” Meanwhile his company continued a major assault in Fallujah leaving nearly 100 Americans dead, 450 wounded and 1,200 bodies of insurgents lying on the streets.

One year and half later, Sinco, for the first time since the photo was taken met up with Miller in the U.S. Instead of discovering just a model of heroism, he also found a model of the broken soldier. Miller was haunted by the brutality of the fighting. Realizing that relationships and even general stability in life were problematic, he had agreed to check into a veterans mental health program. Miller would have to cover the cost of housing - $300 a month for room and board. But soon he dropped out of the program and believed that he would be happier in the West Virgina mountains where had always found solace.

After a wedding and honeymoon, Miller was having difficulties. In November 2006, it was now one year and half since Miller had left the Marines. He lived in an empty apartment where a wedding picture was replaced by a Meritorious Mast. So much for happy endings. And so we pray for the priceless life that Miller gave, but also prayers that he and his comrades will recover their on-going lives too. We pray for the many veterans (approximately one third of all homeless) who continuously struggle to live in their brokenness and poverty - some now for decades.

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