Last week, Getty News Service published a series of photographs of a foot patrol near the Kajaki Dam, a landmark in northern Helmand province, Afghanistan, that provides hydroelectric power. Third Battalion, 12th Marines, an artillery unit out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., has been assigned the area for several months, protecting a potential Taliban target.
This series of photographs was uncommon, though, because it includes scenes from the last foot patrol one Marine ever participated in. Cpl. Jorge Villarreal, a motor vehicle operator, died after stepping on an improvised explosive device, becoming one of the 19 casualties sustained by a Marine unit in Afghanistan this month.
The powerful photograph above depicts the immediate reaction on the battlefield by Villarreal’s buddies. It was published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times last week, and has been distributed on dozens of Web sites, including some based outside the U.S. Its release also has been been met with anger by some readers, who question whether a lack of sensitivity was displayed by publishing the image, LA Times readers’ representative Deirdre Edgar said in a blog entry.
After some discussion with my editor, I’m republishing Olson’s photograph here, along with a few other images from the same series. In context, they’re just as powerful as the front-page image, and provide an even fuller picture of the gravity of the situation.
First, here’s an image of Villarreal still alive with his buddies. It was taken before the patrol began.
The next two photographs show the aftermath of Villarreal’s death.
Edgar, who serves as a link between the Times newsroom and the community, said she received one e-mail from a reader who was “appalled” the newspaper published the photo. Others praised the newspaper for drawing attention to such a gripping image.
As a military publication, Marine Corps Times has struggled with similar issues in the past. In a world in which the cost of war should never be forgotten, where is the line between good taste and sticking one’s head in the sand about the sacrifice of U.S. troops in combat?
Here’s why I see it as important to share 3/12’s images here: They show not only the loss of a U.S. Marine, but in a limited away, the affect it had on those around him. That’s something that a majority of America will never see without news coverage, considering the limited amount of families who serve in the military or otherwise spend time in a combat zone.
Some observers have drawn comparison’s between these photographs and the far more graphic photograph of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, who was fatally wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade last summer. Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson was on the patrol with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, when the attack occurred, and captured a blurry image of some of Bernard’s last living moments (I haven’t linked it here, but it’s readily accessible through an Internet search for those who feel the need to see it).
Certainly, there are similarities, but given the graphic nature of the Bernard photo, it barely appeared in print anywhere. The image of Villarreal dials it back, and still conveys every bit as much sadness.