The Marlboro Marine
Photo by Louis Sinco
Doing research for this weeks project- we have to illustrate a newspaper article regarding female soldiers on the front lines. I was looking at some of the iconic photography war journalists have taken in recent conflicts, trying to capture the colour and compositional details that would make for a good illustration, when I came across the tale of James Blake Millar, AKA ‘The Marlboro Marine’
Heres a transcript from Wikipedia about Millars biography, including how he became one of the worlds most famous Marines:
James Blake Miller (born July 10, 1984) is an American Iraq War veteran, who served in the United States Marine Corps and was dubbed “the Marlboro Man” / “Marlboro Marine”, after an iconic, close-up photograph of his dirt-smeared, battle-weary face, with a cigarette planted in his mouth, was published on the front page of more than 150 American newspapers in 2004.
Because of his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, Miller is now separated from his wife and family and currently lives alone. He is unable to discuss certain things that happened in Fallujah, and has joined the Highwaymen, a motorcycle club under constant scrutiny by law enforcement.
Miller became part of Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, a unit which took part in the November 2004 assault on Fallujah. Entering the city on November 8, 2004, they encountered heavy fire almost immediately, and were pinned down all night at a traffic circle. In the morning, the unit took fire again and had to run into a house for cover. After securing the house, Miller, the platoon’s radioman, called in tank fire on a nearby house. In the moments after the tank blasts shook the home they were located in, embedded Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco took a photo of Miller propped against a wall, smoking a cigarette; Miller’s face was smeared with war paint, blood trickled from his right ear and bridge of his nose, and he was momentarily deafened by the cannon blasts, staring at the sunrise. In explaining the photograph, Sinco stated that “His expression caught my eye. To me, it said: terrified, exhausted, and glad just to be alive. I recognized that look because that’s how I felt too.” Miller was 20 at the time.
Sinco’s photograph of Miller appeared on the front page of over 150 newspapers. CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather singled out the photo for its excellence, and turned the then-unidentified Marine into a celebrity. Sinco was told to find the Marine for a follow-up story and tracked down Miller four days later in an auditorium near Fallujah’s civic center. Miller was embarrassed about the photo’s impact, but shared information with Sinco. The two would remain friends thereafter.
After his identity was made public, people sent him care packages, including lots of cigarettes; President George W. Bush sent cigars, candy and memorabilia from the White House. The forward command center soon featured a large blowup of the photo. Then-Major General Richard F. Natonski, head of the 1st Marine Division, made a special trip to see Miller, to Miller’s surprise. The general shook Miller’s hand and let him know that, because Americans had “connected” with his photo, and nobody wanted to see him wounded or dead, he was offered a trip home. Miller turned down the offer because he did not want to leave his comrades behind.
After his tour, Miller returned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was married in June 2005 to Holbrooks in a civil ceremony; the couple had a lavish reception at a country club in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, paid for by donations from admirers of Miller throughout the USA.
PTSD & discharge
Miller began to suffer from PTSD; he had nightmares, and while cleaning his shotgun, he blacked out only to regain consciousness when his wife called his name, finding himself pointing the shotgun at her. He reported problems to his superiors, who promised help. Problems came to a head while he was deployed to the Gulf of Mexico in September 2005, to help assist with recovery in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With a second large storm, Hurricane Rita, moving in to the area, the Marines were ordered to remain out at sea for safety reasons. Inside a Navy ship, he assaulted a sailor who whistled in a way that reminded Miller of a rocket-propelled grenade. On November 10, 2005, he was medically discharged with a “personality disorder”, exactly one year after his iconic picture made worldwide news.
The Millers returned to Kentucky. He and Jessica took time off while living on a monthly disability benefit of about $2,500. Miller bought a motorcycle for long rides. Although Miller had hoped to go into law enforcement, his PTSD and discharge made it impossible as no one could trust him with a weapon. Hearing that he had encountered problems, donors from across America and local businesses banded together to fund a traditional wedding ceremony for the Millers. Blake and Jessica renewed their vows on June 3, 2006, in a lavish ceremony at a hilltop clubhouse. In lieu of a honeymoon, the couple went to Washington, D.C. at the invitation of the National Mental Health Association, which wanted to honor Miller for going public about his PTSD and have him visit congressmen to share his experience. After returning home from Washington, Miller quickly sank into depression and his marriage deteriorated. He asked for a divorce from his wife, which made the front page of the local newspaper.
Luis Sinco, the photographer who had made Miller famous, had been following the Millers for some time to do a follow-up story; at this point Sinco decided to push the line of professional journalism and take Miller to get help. Sinco took Miller to Errera Community Care Center, a veterans’ treatment program, in West Haven, Connecticut. Miller checked into the program, and his Veterans Benefits paid for the treatment. Miller initially opened up to therapy sessions, but did not do as well in group therapy; he began talking with his wife, and dropped out just two months into a program that was supposed to last six months to a year
In August 2006, the couple moved to Princeton, West Virginia. However, by mid-October 2006, Miller had again slipped into depression. Jessica moved out and the two agreed to proceed with the divorce. Miller moved back to Kentucky, next to his father’s house, and began working at a motorcycle repair shop. He joined a motorcycle club called the Highwaymen, which was under scrutiny by law enforcement but appealed to Miller because their uniforms and codes of conduct reminded him of the Marines.
Louis Sinco would later do a follow up story on Millar, published in the LA Times, linked below: