Death in Afghanistan: A soldier's story. But is this photo too much to bear?
The Associated Press is distributing a photo of a Marine fatally wounded in battle, choosing after a period of reflection to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.
Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, 21, of New Portland, Maine, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14 in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.
The image shows fellow Marines helping Bernard after he suffered severe leg injuries. He was evacuated to a field hospital where he died on the operating table.
Images of U.S. soldiers fallen in combat have been rare in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because it is unusual for journalists to witness them and partly because military guidelines have barred the showing of photographs until after families have been notified.
AP Photographer Julie Jacobson, who accompanied Marines on the patrol and was in the midst of the ambush during which Bernard was wounded, took the picture from a distance with a long lens and did not interfere with Marines trying to assist Bernard.
Bernard's father opposed publication of the photo, saying it was disrespectful to his son's memory. But Jacobson and her editors say the image is part of the history of this war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed disappointment Friday at news outlets that used the picture.
"Death is a part of life and most certainly a part of war," Jacobson says in a journal the AP has published. "Isn't that why we're here? To document for now and for history the events of this war?"
Tampabay.com readers have shared their viewpoints on the photo, many opposed to the distribution of the picture:
"This is sick. Do you really NEED to show this?" asked Jenny from Afghanistan wrote:
Kim from South Dakota said: "Showing this picture should have been only with the families' permission. We know all to well the results of war. I would have respected the parents' wishes.
"Too see this picture doesn't bring any good. I cried when I saw it," wrote Marisha from Indonesia. "Who would want to see a person struggle with death in such pain?
Heather from Maine was grateful to see the photo: "This picture brought tears to my eyes and my heart ached for the soldier's family. Thank you for sharing this photo. He was very brave!"
***Note: Readers' response to this blog post and tampabay.com's story truly have been overwhelming, with more than 1,650 comments published on the story and nearly 280 here at this point. We've never experienced such an outpouring to a single story in such a short time.
Please note that I am reading every comment on this blog, and all comments published with the story are being read by a tampabay.com editor before publication. We do appreciate your feedback, from folks on all sides of this issue.
And to those that have e-mailed me: I'm reading your messages and will reply to you.