Sunday, January 29, 2006


Some people get to pick and choose. Some don't:

The photograph hit the world on Nov. 10, 2004: a close-cropped shot of a U.S. Marine in Iraq, his face smeared with blood and dirt, a cigarette dangling from his lips, smoke curling across weary eyes.

It was an instant icon, with Dan Rather calling it "the best war photograph in recent years." About 100 newspapers ran the photo, dubbing the anonymous warrior the "Marlboro Man."

The man in the photograph is James Blake Miller, now 21, and he is an icon, although in ways Rather probably never imagined.

He's quieter now -- easier to anger. He turns to fight at the sound of a backfire, can't look at fireworks without thinking of fire raining down on a city. He has trouble sleeping, and when he does, his fingers twitch on invisible triggers.

The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder.


"There's a lot of Vietnam vets ... they don't heal until 30, 40 years down the road," Miller said. "People bottle it up, become angry, easily temperamental, and hell, before you know it, these are the people who are snapping on you."

Jessica interrupted. "You're already like that," she said.

She recalled her own first glimpse of the Marlboro Man -- an image seen through tears of relief that he was alive, and misery at how worn he looked.

"Some people thought it was sexy, and we thought, 'Oh, my God, he's in the middle of a war, close to death.' We just couldn't understand how some people could look at it like that," she said. "But I guess for some people it was glory, like patriotism."

She looked at her quiet husband through the smoke drifting from his right hand.

"But when it comes out and there's actually a personality behind that picture, and that personality, he has to deal with all the war, and all he's done, people don't want to know how hard it actually is," she said.

"This is the dark side of the reality of war. ... People don't want to know the Marlboro Man has PTSD."