View Full Version : A picture not taken, a memory forged

03-24-08, 08:58 AM
From the Los Angeles Times
Marine Lance Corporal AARON AUSTIN
A picture not taken, a memory forged
A photographer helped carry Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin off the battlefield.
By Rick Loomis
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 24, 2008

How can you never forget someone you never knew?

I did take Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin's photo, but I take photographs of people every day and I can't say I knew him.

It's the picture I didn't take that has left Austin burned forever in my memory.

On April 26, 2004, I was traveling with a Marine company fighting house to house in Fallouja. So many Marines were wounded that day, the unit decided to retreat. As I ran alongside the retreating Marines, I saw three of them standing over a fallen comrade. My instinct was to stop and photograph the scene. But they needed help and waved me over. I was always taught to be a human being first, and a photojournalist second. I abandoned any thoughts of a dramatic battle photograph. I lifted the wounded Marine by his right arm; three Marines carried him by his other limbs. As his buddies hauled him inside an abandoned schoolhouse, I remember trying to keep the back of his head from hitting the top step.

I never saw him again.

Once the fighting stopped, the mood turned somber. One Marine had lost an arm. Several were badly wounded. One was dead.

Within hours, I learned the name of the dead Marine. It was Austin. I remembered photographing him the day before. He was reading a letter from home. A few days after his death, I summoned my nerve and called his mother, De'on Miller, to offer her the photograph. She told me it would mean the world to her; she wanted every scrap of information about his last days in Iraq.

After I returned home, I decided to visit Austin's mother at her home in New Mexico. I gave her the photo and also showed her a video clip of the battle showing me and the three Marines carrying the wounded man. Miller immediately recognized him as her son. My heart sank as I realized I had helped carry her son off the battlefield.

A few days ago, for the fifth anniversary of the war, she wrote an e-mail to me and members of her son's unit: "Believe me when I say, I know that given the choice, Aaron would do the same thing all over again. And his mother, who will always miss and mourn him, too, would not change a thing either."