Published on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 by Newsday / Long Island, NY
Their Photos Tell the Story
by Jimmy Breslin
The Army Times, a civilian newspaper that is sold mainly on military bases and thus reaches the prime wartime audience, uses eight pages of its year-end review, out now, to run photos of all those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, except 35.
I usually don't refer to other publications, for I have enough trouble with my own. But this issue of the Army Times is so extraordinary and gives hope that it will provide some leadership in the news industry.
There were 506 killed by the time the newspaper closed last Friday. Since then, another seven have died. The newspaper has said this is the deadliest year for the U.S. military since 1972, when 640 were killed in Vietnam.
In introducing the pictures, under the headline "Faces of the Fallen," the Army Times said: "More than 500 service members died in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in 2003, a group that represents the full, rich face of American diversity.
"They grew up in big cities like Chicago and New York and small towns like Layton, Utah, and Cross Lanes, West Virginia. Ten were women, the youngest six 18-year-olds barely out of high school. The oldest, Army Sgt. Floyd G. Nightman Jr., was 55.
"They died at the hands of the enemy, from illnesses contracted in the war zones and the accidents that inevitably push human beings and their equipment to their limit.
"They came from all walks of life, from every race and creed. But all shared a common bond - commitment to, and pride in, serving their country in the cause of freedom.
"As the New Year dawns, we pause once to honor those who fell in 2003."
The pictures are small and run in neat columns. The names, ranks and date and place of death are in small type underneath the small pictures. The understatement is devastating.
The paper's senior managing editor, Robert Hodierne, was saying yesterday, "When I looked at the pages, I felt the same as I did when I walked along the Wall."
He met Maya Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall architect who was 23 when she designed it.
"I am in love with her," Hodierne says.
The chilling photos run at a time when the government tries to describe the war as a civic venture, and nearly all of the news industry doesn't know how to object. This probably is the worst failure to inform the public that we have seen. The Pekingese of the Press run clip-clop along the hall to the next government press conference.
"We started on the issue three or four weeks ago," Hodierne said. The paper has been running pictures of the dead every week.
"We had 75 percent of the photos. We had to make the best effort we could to go after the others. We went to families and hometown papers. The military doesn't give out so many photos of the dead. People here were upset by the gaps in the rows of photos."
One who was bothered was Anna Pozzie, who scanned the photos into a computer. It was slow, painful work. She became saddened by the pictures. The ages of the dead young men were wrenching.
Steve Zelfers, the photo editor, said, "You stare at the photos and see the cost of the war."
The complaint about the military holding back pictures is one part of the attempt to make you as unaware as possible that soldiers are dying in Iraq. They have this Bremer who stands in his jacket, shirt and tie and talks about the new Iraqi government that we have set up.
He doesn't seem to know about death.
He doesn't know that every time we try to put our democracy into one of these totalitarian countries, the scum comes to the top. They have been living elsewhere and rush back to lick American boots and get positions in the great new government.
The government folds and the imams take over.
And the dead are brought back here almost furtively. There are no ceremonies or pictures of caskets at Dover, Del., air base, where the dead are brought. "You don't want to upset the families," George Bush said. That the people might be slightly disturbed already by the death doesn't seem to register.
The wounded are flown into Washington at night. There are 5,000 of them and for a long time you never heard of soldiers who have no arms and legs. Then the singer Cher went into Walter Reed Hospital and came out and gave a report that was so compelling she should walk away with a Pulitzer Prize.
Finally, a couple of television stations and a newspaper here and there began to cover these things. There are miles to go.
For now, Cher, on one day, and the Army Times for the whole year, have served the nation as it should be served.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.